On Wednesday 15 April, I listened in as the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, contradicted the reality in schools in most states. Despite his statement, parents need to know and understand that NSW schools have never closed because of the COVID-19 crisis and will remain open for those students who need to be at school.
In the past four weeks, I have seen teachers almost instantly flip their learning programs (which they had been creating and adding to for months) into a well-designed, informed, flexible system for students to engage with in the safety of their homes. Politicians have continued to shift goals and changed rules about how, and if, schools should remain open.
Teachers adapted and moved quickly, without political direction or resourcing or extra funding. The change has been challenging for many teachers, assisting countless families to help their children with varying and specific learning needs, and trying to support often vulnerable co-workers.
We get it: it is hard for parents and carers with children at home, trying to negotiate work, if they are lucky enough that work still exists for them. Teachers are experiencing those exact same challenges. And considering more than a third of teachers are over the age of 50, the concerns are real.
To then hear Scott Morrison state that teachers need to consider student learning and welfare, when that is something teachers have always done and will continue to do, is as insulting as it is indicative of the disconnect between the teaching profession and those who make decisions to govern it.
To position education as the lynchpin that could make or break the economy pits teachers against families. We must not let this go unchallenged. This is a marketing ploy and typical political gaslighting.
When you hear the Prime Minister tell you students are simply “looking at the internet” when at home, do not believe him. When he says learning is at risk if students remain home, remember that after the last earthquake in Christchurch in New Zealand, schools remained closed for a whole term, and students’ results improved in that time. When you hear the leader of our nation state workers need to use protective wear and establish stringent protocols because of the very real risk of infection, but this somehow doesn’t apply in classes of 30 students and schools of 300 (and more) students, understand that this advice is politics, not medicine.
The decision to open or close schools is out of teachers’ hands. It is a political decision. When the leader of our nation refers to remote learning as disadvantaging poorer families, it has nothing to do with schools, and more to do with governments ensuring the poor remain so, while ensuring an imbalanced funding to different school sectors.
If ever it has been made clear what our government has created in terms of wealth for our country, this is it: the pandemic has made worse domestic and family violence; it has shown us the digital divide that schools have been crying out to government about for years; and it has put a spotlight on the many cultural and socio-economic divisions the past 10 years of federal governance has made worse.
There is no simple “return to normal” – whatever that was to begin with. Perhaps Scott Morrison may need to ask Education Minister Dan Tehan to consider to what exactly he expects teachers to return.