Parents and students have endured another day of confusion and frustration as some schools opened and politicians insisted it was safe to attend during the coronavirus pandemic.
Victorian parents complained of network outages and crashes as students officially started term two with online learning on Wednesday.
Other states have at least a week of holidays until term two begins – although NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian flagged more changes on Wednesday, hinting that schools could open as soon as August.
“I’ll make sure there’s plenty of time to update parents and students, but our desire is to see a change in term two,” she said.
“We want to see students have access to face-to-face teaching.”
It came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison released a social media video, pleading with teachers to keep classrooms open.
“The education of our children hangs in the balance,” he said.
Mr Morrison said open schools were important for children who could not learn at home, such as those whose parents are essential workers.
“We will lose many things in the course of fighting this virus,” he said.
“One thing that I know teachers are united on, with their parents, is we do not want one of those things to be the loss of a child’s education, giving up a whole year of their learning.”
Thank you to all our heroes on the frontline of our fight against the coronavirus, but especially our teachers. You do an incredible job educating our kids. During these tough times, your role has never been more important.
Posted by Scott Morrison (ScoMo) on Tuesday, April 14, 2020
In Victoria on Wednesday, students and parents logging in for the first day of remote classes reported school websites and online learning portal Compass crashing.
Mother-of-three Caroline Hamilton said there were “hiccups”.
“The teenagers are actually doing all right with theirs – they’ve been able to get into Compass but a lot of their friends haven’t been able to. And the little one, her primary school’s Compass has completely crashed,” Ms Hamilton told the ABC.
“She is soldiering on as best she can.”
Other parents also reported technical issues.
“My son had a 10 o’clock Google meeting with the class and out of the 18 students, only four could log on,” one father told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
Another parent said his daughter’s streamed class was cancelled after an unknown person joined “and started saying incredibly inappropriate things”.
“The teacher then killed the meeting,” he said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews acknowledged “some bumps” on the first day of online learning.
“There’ll be challenges. We’ve never had day one of term two look like this before,” he said.
“Every Victorian government school is open today and for those who can’t learn at home, that is an option.”
He rejected the idea of conflicting messages, saying there was “no difference in our approach” between the state and federal governments.
Mr Andrews said the message across the country was “stay at home, learn from home if you can. If, however, your circumstances mean that you can’t, school will be open for you”.
Elsewhere, federal Education Minister Dan Tehan also rejected suggestions of mixed messages about schools.
But less than 24 hours before his own children – who are boarders at a Victorian school – were due to start on Thursday, he wasn’t sure if they would attend.
“I’ll be continuing to have discussions with them about that. We’ll wait and see what happens,” he said.
He denied his indecision highlighted parents’ confusion.
“I think it’s safe for children to be at school,” he said.
“But obviously, in Victoria they’re saying if you can learn at home, that’s their preference. I’ll have a discussion and see if they want to go to school.”
Labor’s education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek accused Mr Morrison of contradicting state and territory leaders.
“Parents just want clear information. So do teachers. This mess must be cleaned up immediately,” she said.
Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates also criticised Mr Morrison’s message, saying parents should not worry about children missing out on some study amid the coronavirus crisis.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Mr Bates told Nine’s Today show.
“Our young people will not suffer from a short period of hiatus around their learning.”
Later, deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee considered schools safe
“The AHPPC has indeed been considering how to make schools even safer – even safer for staff, for teachers, in their essential role in this COVID-19 epidemic,” he said.
“That advice is being considered by national cabinet this week.”
The situation in other states:
ACT: Term two starts April 28. Online learning for most students, schools open for the children of essential workers
Northern Territory: Starts April 20. Students expected to attend, unless school has specifically been informed of their absence
NSW: Starts April 27. Ms Berejiklian has flagged moving from online to face-to-face teaching during the term
Queensland: Starts April 20. Schools open for children of essential workers and vulnerable students. School advice to be reviewed by May 15
South Australia: Starts April 27. Schools, preschools and early childhood services will remain open but parents can keep children at home
Tasmania: Starts April 28. Teachers are preparing for online learning, but schools will be open for those who must attend
Western Australia: Starts April 28. Students have been encouraged to learn from home from late March, as yet no update for term two