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Australia’s National Plan to re-open does not involve kids

PHOTO: Unsplash/ @kellysikkema

AUSTRALIAN parents want their kids vaccinated and back at school, according to a national poll by UNICEF.

The results, released on August 11, 2021, found parents were overwhelmingly concerned about the academic effects of extended periods in lockdown.

Learning loss was a ‘major concern’ for 63 per cent of parents, with more than one in four anxious their child would remain intellectually behind when school returned.

UNICEF Australia CEO, Mr Tony Stuart said it was necessary to include parents in the debate about sending kids back to school.

“To date, much of the debate on when students will return to face-to-face learning has been from politicians, the health sectors and unions,” he said. 

Australian parents have voiced clear opinions on what measures should be taken to re-introduce face-to-face learning.  

Wil is a 9-year-old Primary school student who is currently undergoing online learning in Melbourne. 

His mother, Nicole Allison said without constant monitoring, Wil is not engaged.

“A lot of work they do needs parents to guide the lessons… it is like I am the teacher,” she said. 

“The days that I work, he will just sit there and do nothing.

There is no accountability.” 

Vaccinations were a hot topic for two-thirds of the surveyed parents who said they would vaccinate their child ‘tomorrow’ if they could. 

On July 23, the Therapeutic Goods Administration provisionally approved the extension of the Pfizer vaccine. 

Children 12 years and over with pre-existing medical conditions, who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or live-in remote communities are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine from August 9.  

The age extension is an improvement, but vaccinating children outside of the priority bubble has been sidelined. 

The Australian Government released a National Plan to Transition Australia’s COVID-19 Response on July 30, 2021. 

The plan seeks to combat the virus through a four-phase guide, which begins with stepping up vaccination rates across Australia. 

The National Cabinet said, “Australia will continue to strongly suppress the virus…measures may include accelerating vaccination rates, closing international borders… and early, stringent and short lockdowns if outbreaks occur,” in a statement on July 30, 2021. 

After this phase, the National Plan will enter a ‘vaccine transition’ period which will commence once 70% of the adult population are fully vaccinated. 

Under the current policy, the transition phase is expected to begin in November or December this year. 

This could mean low-level restrictions and lockdowns only in extreme circumstances by the end of the year. 

While the plan may be a sigh of relief for the fully vaccinated adult population, Australian children are put at risk.

Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Sydney, Alexandra Martiniuk said in an opinion piece for the Guardian that the plan to re-open Australia is problematic without vaccinating children. 

“A reopening that expands freedoms based on 70 per cent to 80 per cent of adults being vaccinated but none of the children feels morally wrong,” she said. 

“The national reopening plan needs to be based on vaccination proportions of the entire population.” 

According to the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), clinical tests still need to be performed before children and adolescents can get the jab.  In the UNICEF poll, parents were enthusiastic to vaccinate their children so face-to-face learning can safely return.

Mr Stuart said after speaking with more than 3500 children and young people there is no substitute for direct learning.  

“We recognise that schools and parents are doing their best to provide learning in very challenging circumstances, but the quality of teaching provided in classrooms cannot be achieved remotely,” he said.

UNICEF’s poll found three in four parents said they would like to see more teaching support for learning at home and 42 per cent said they would like one on one teacher contact during the lockdown. 

The UNICEF report has voiced parental concerns in the hope that Government officials can strategize a safe return to in-person learning.  

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Tia Haralabakos

Tia Haralabakos is a Media & Communications student at Monash University specialising in Journalism and human rights. She is interested in the multi-faceted landscape of digital media, particularly addressing challenges to online reporting like diversity and content moderation. Tia’s journalistic interests include human rights and social affairs.

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