The government’s decision to shut down schools during the pandemic would bring “catastrophic” consequences for the future of kids, a leader of an Australian national charity for kids has argued.
Julie Hourigan Ruse, CEO of SHINE for Kids said that school has a much more significant role to play in the lives of young children than reading, writing and arithmetic, and the school closures have cut them off from their social lives and other sources of support.
The impacts were much more serious for kids experiencing neglect, domestic abuse or housing stress, as well as kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds who didn’t have access to the internet or devices.
She noted that the kids were “contained in houses” where they did not feel safe and where the issues they experienced went under the radar.
“We will never be able to put an economic value on for probably decades,” she told 2GB radio.
“As soon as we stopped kids from going to schools, we shut down all of the professional eyes that were on kids across Australia.”
“And then for families that were already doing it tough, we pull that safety net out from underneath them. It is staggering.”
She also said that as Australia’s education system is predominantly based on face-to-face teaching, the teachers were not prepared to move the content online and families were not ready to adapt to the change.
“And it wasn't just school that was cancelled. We cancelled sports, we cancelled church, we cancelled face to face health care services. So anybody where a child had a trusted person outside of their house that they could talk to if they needed help, that they could talk to if they were feeling sad or stressed anywhere that they could have gone to talk to somebody about what was going on for them once removed from them.”
She warned that this would potentially lead to an increased number of kids not contributing to the system but instead ending up in mental health care, homelessness services, or even prisons.
“Then that way we will see in a decade's time and in 15 years' time, the full economic consequence and the full social consequence of shutting down schools and not letting these kids go about their business of being a kid," she said.
SHINE for kids is the only national charity that provides services to support children and young people from infancy to adulthood.
According to research conducted by SFI Health with over 2,000 Australians, the majority of parents (66 percent) said their children spent too much time on screens during lockdowns, and feared that it would impact their cognitive health.
Almost all parents tried different strategies to help reduce their children’s screen time, including time limits and tactile activities.
Around one-quarter of parents were unhappy with online learning as it led to their children becoming increasingly distracted and unable to focus.