Vulnerable students in rural areas will benefit from schools reopening

Education: Parkes MP Mark Coulton and Calare MP Andrew Gee said they are both for regional and remote schools reopening. Photo: File.
Education: Parkes MP Mark Coulton and Calare MP Andrew Gee said they are both for regional and remote schools reopening. Photo: File.

Vulnerable students in regional and remote areas will greatly benefit from schools reopening, two Federal MPs have said.

Parkes MP Mark Coulton and Calare MP Andrew Gee said they are both for regional and remote schools reopening.

Due to COVID-19, schools are currently open to families and no students to be turned away, however parents and carers are encouraged to keep their children home wherever possible.

In April, Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell outlined the plan for students attending NSW public schools to progressively return to face-to-face learning in week three of Term 2.

Under the changes, from week three of Term 2, every student will attend school for one day a week.

The government will look to increase the number of days students are at school in a staged way and hope to have all children back at school full-time by Term 3.

Mr Coulton, who is also the Regional Communications Minister said in many rural and remote areas technology isn't as readily available, which is impacting their education.

He said the opening of regional and remote schools would be a low risk to COVID-19.

"In country towns there's a lot of kids whose families don't have that technology or in larger families there just isn't enough for all of them," Mr Coulton explained.

"The real tragedy would be if we lose a complete year of education for the kids. And as well as some are doing, I think it is impacting on kids."

Mr Coulton said we still must keep in mind that some teachers are in the high-risk group for COVID-19 infection, so safety measures must be put in place to protect them and students before they are reopened.

"There will probably need to be some changes made to playground activities and the like, but everything I've been briefed on or read indicates having the kids at school is a reasonably safe activity," he said.

"What we're looking at now is risk versus reward and I think kids going back to school is a lower risk for a higher reward outcome."

Mr Coulton said should an outbreak of COVID-19 occur, there are capacities now in place to be able to deal with it.

This includes more intensive care beds available, the introduction of the Royal Flying Doctor Service retrieval package and the COVIDSafe app.

"So if we do have an outbreak, even if it was an area with kids at school, then quickly we've got the capacity to handle it if people were unwell, but also to close things again," Mr Coulton explained.

"I think opening the schools is a positive move, but it will take some time before we get back to things as they were."

Mr Gee, who is also the Regional Education Minister, said some country parts of Australia generally have fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19, which is why schools in these areas should be the first to reopen.

The Calare MP said he wants to ensure vulnerable students aren't left behind.

"We have research strongly indicating almost one in two Aussie kids fall into the vulnerable category with online learning, and that it doesn't work for them long-term," he said.

"There's no reason that country schools can't safely reopen if adhering to expert medical advice, social distancing measures and cleanliness so that our kids don't fall behind."

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This story Vulnerable students in rural areas will benefit from schools reopening first appeared on Western Magazine.