As teachers across Australia return to work for the second school term, the nation is divided between those who want to see them in the classrooms and those who think it is unsafe.
Adding to the uncertainty, research commissioned by the federal Education Department and released on Tuesday claims up to two million Australian children are at risk of falling behind in their education due to the national shift to remote learning.
From Wednesday, every school in Australia has returned for term two – either at home or in the classroom – and while some teachers say they’re ready, others are concerned for themselves and their students.
A report from five of the country’s leading universities showed that up to half of Australian children stand to be negatively affected by the nation shifting to remote learning.
Education Minister Dan Tehan used the research to reiterate the federal government’s view that states and territories should to push to have students back in classrooms by the end of May.
“There is the potential impact on over two million students in this nation if we can’t get students back connected with the classroom,” he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
But not all teachers agree.
Every teacher The New Daily spoke to said parents need to take the pressure off themselves to be high performers in this time.
“Don’t worry about [children] and their education, just make sure they’re healthy and happy,” one teacher from NSW, who asked not to be named, said.
“It’s a stressful time at the moment. They’re looking for parents guidance. I wish more parents would think about that.
“This is a real bonding time for families. The parents are thinking they need to be teachers, but they need to step up and be parents.”
One Melbourne-based teacher stressed that children are adaptable, and will cope well if home is OK.
“I missed out on the first four years of my education. I didn’t get taught because I was a refugee. I turned out fine,” he said.
“Kids can make up their education if they want. If kids don’t go to school for three months, and they are at home with their parents developing those bonds, they gain more.”
State of confusion
Adding to the confusion as to whether it’s safe to return to school, states and territories have gone their own way.
Queensland reopened schools last week and is preparing a staggered return to classrooms from May 11.
Students in the Australian Capital Territory are also settling into remote learning, with the Education Directorate saying it “does not know” when face-to-face learning will return.
In NSW, students are learning remotely but preparing to return to classrooms from May 11.
In the Northern Territory, it’s business as before-COVID-usual, with students attending regular schools hours.
In South Australia, they’re doing the same.
In Tasmania and Victoria, they’re telling students to stay home where possible.
One NSW teacher, who asked not to be named, said his public school was not set up to keep the students safe during the virus outbreak.
“The problem is we just can’t do what the authorities are asking us to do because you can’t force children to keep their distance from each other,” he said.
“As soon as you move them apart, they gravitate back together. If you keep nagging them about it, the nervous ones get even more worried.
“Public school facilities are just not built for social distancing. Public schools had insufficient buildings to house us before this pandemic.
“During a pandemic, they are spectacularly unsuited to the purpose. They are ageing and cramped and over-used.”
As teachers weigh up the risks, so do parents.
For some families, the debate over staying home is about keeping loved ones safe.
Mandy Sandlant has three children. Between them they catch five buses and go to three schools.
The family lives in regional Victoria and her son has bad asthma. She said she’s concerned about them going back to school too early.
“I feel like we’re in for the long haul. Other states are opening up their schools, but will there be outbreaks? I think I’m actually happy with the Victorian response so far,” Ms Sandlant said.
“If the kids do go back to school, I’m concerned they would be a carrier and bring it back to my household to my son or pass it on to their grandparents,” she explained.
“I can understand people are getting stressed and overwhelmed with their children and I’m an essential worker, so I can access the school if I want to.
“But there are so many unknowns. I want more clarification.”
A study last week of NSW school students and staff tested for COVID-19 found an “extraordinarily” low rate of transmission in schools.
The National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance research looked at all 18 cases of COVID-19 found in NSW schools and found only two additional cases of the virus.