During the current pandemic, there has been an overwhelming focus on whether schools should physically remain open or not.
I am therefore concerned that a number of important, underlying problems in education policy are potentially being overlooked.
One of those is the need to mitigate the substantially elevated risk of student disengagement in these changed circumstances for teaching and learning.
Long before people were confined to their homes, low educational participation or attachment was already prevalent among a worryingly high number of Victorian students. Across regional Australia, where resources and academic results are also steadily declining, around one in four students was already absent for at least 10 per cent of the normal school year.
It is an unfortunate reality that some parents (and children) are not sufficiently interested or well enough prepared or equipped, even at the best of times, to access and take maximum advantage of the educational opportunities available to them.
The proliferation of drug dependency or misuse, teenage pregnancies, homelessness and/or out-of-home care living and mental health conditions are some of the many practical reflections of that among young people.
There is also a clear connection between school disengagement and both youth and adult crime.
Unfortunately, I believe the pandemic (and our nation’s response to it) will be exacerbating these issues – not only in the same homes as before, but also now more widely.
I acknowledge there are a host of complex policy challenges associated with managing COVID-19.
However, this is definitely one set of problems that requires immediate action, through intervention that is initiated as directly and early as possible. In these cases, I have great concern that the issues will not be fully addressed or rectified by taking action later (through the subsequent use of programs like Navigator, for instance).
By raising the need for them in this Statement, I hope I might indeed encourage those Ministers with the relevant responsibilities to instigate those urgent actions.