Fears for at-risk students as Term Two kicks off
THERE could be a huge spike in the number of at-risk children falling behind in their education with "no real guarantee" to keep them on track during home-schooling, experts have warned.
Schools have been kept open for any child of essential frontline workers, vulnerable children and those who cannot be supervised learning at home during the next five weeks.
USQ associate professor Stewart Riddle said on average before COVID-19 there was already an absentee rate of around 8 per cent across the state, which the crisis could exacerbate.
He said he was concerned about students in vulnerable positions, already on the margins of schooling at risk of exclusion, from "dropping off from the education system as it currently stands".
Schools have been rapidly contacting their students' families to find out which child was in need of technology to learn at home and also prepared hard-copy packages of learning activities to keep them on track during the pandemic.
The Queensland Government has also purchased 5254 new laptops to help students learn at home and have received 5000 SIM cards from Telstra as they work to secure another 4000 hotspot devices to help students connect to the internet.
State schools have also been urged to report attendance figures to the Department of Education daily by 10am after marking attendance at home online and at the school.
Melbourne University's Graduate School of Education Dean Professor Jim Watterson said despite the Department of Education and schools doing everything they can, he was "incredibly concerned" about the risk a COVID-19 induced partial shutdown of schools could have on vulnerable children's education.
He estimates that there are already about 8000 young people in Queensland and about 50,000 nationwide not attending schools and unaccounted for. He said the number of children who stop attending could be significant during the crisis.
"We've got no guarantee kids with mental health problems, dysfunctional families, kids with domestic violence going on and the list of all those vulnerabilities, we have no guarantee at all we're keeping those kids A, engaged or B, even connected," he said.
"I'm not sure how we guarantee that those 50,000 kids will not grow to a much bigger number because we don't have the mechanisms in place."
USQ education expert Stewart Riddle said for children who sit on the "fringes of schooling" with high absentee rates, or are vulnerable children, are at even more risk of missing their education during the pandemic.
"For those students, I think you could bet your bottom dollar that what's happening now will make things a lot worse," he said.
"We have an absentee rate that sits around 8 per cent or thereabouts, so on any given day, you've got a substantial proportion of young people not attending school and that's a well-known problem.
"Schools will be open Monday but that doesn't mean the vulnerable kids in our communities will be there. That's no fault of the teachers, we've got a big social problem with how we deal with disadvantage.
"This is why schools aren't actually fully closing, they need to be there to provide some form of safety net for kids who have no other option.
"I think everybody has got the right ideas that the focus on the importance of education and teachers in our society cannot be over-estimated."
Yesterday Education Minister Grace Grace said the decision to move schools to remote learning was not taken lightly, and allowed for social distancing at schools so essential workers' children and vulnerable children could come to class.
"We want to ensure everyone gets a good learning experience from home and remote learning so it is essential every student is accounted for and teachers and schools know exactly where students are."
Ms Grace said schools have prepared hard-copy and digital learning activities and virtual classrooms so that students would be educated during the first five weeks of terms.
"We don't expect parents to teach their children at home, this is remote learning, your teacher will bet there to continue learning from a remote location, or from printed material, or a combination of printed, digital and virtual learning."
Originally published as Fears for at-risk students