Hansard Extract – Members Statement – 17 February 2021

Mr HODGETT (Croydon)

As Shadow Minister for Education I am deeply concerned by this snap five-day lockdown.

This week, instead of going to school, students statewide have been forced to return to remote learning AGAIN. Whilst schools have done a magnificent job pivoting last year to remote learning, it should be pointed out that schools are, by design, a face-to-face learning environment. I need to emphasise this because it is important to remember that remote learning is not an equal substitute for face-to-face learning. Every day that students are forced to learn remotely is another day of compromised education, not just from an academic standpoint but from an emotional standpoint too.

We have evidence for this: we saw last year the effects of the lockdown not only in terms of learning but on students’ mental health, feelings of belonging and social development.

It is also critical to remember that positive learning habits take time to develop. Stopping onsite school at this early juncture puts a dent in the learning momentum that is being built in the early stages of the year.

It has also been widely acknowledged that attendance at school is lower in the regions than in metro, and yet, with the Premier acknowledging that there is no virus in the regions, students there are also being forced to learn at home.

We still don’t know what the long-term effects on student learning and mental health from last year have been. We do know that the World Health Organization says school closures are ‘devastating’ for students. We do know that the OECD says ‘learning losses’ will be ‘permanent’. We do know that students have been genuinely traumatised by the lockdown of 2020, and they need to know that the government is prioritising their academic and mental health needs.

We also do know that students are desperately seeking certainty and that they want to have confidence that lockdowns will not be part of the 2021 school landscape.

School closures should be a last resort, not part of a statewide strategy aimed at eliminating a virus. It is imperative that the negative impact of school closures is at the top of mind when decisions are made regarding lockdown measures.

I cannot state this more emphatically. Schools should have remained open during this lockdown.