I spent my life growing up around workers in the education system, including teachers, other teacher-aides, special-ed workers and relief teachers. I know the amount of work they take on voluntarily, willing to educate young minds on everything from mathematics to reading and writing to behavioural skills.
I also know the hell they are put through and the lack of support they receive. I’ve understood the lack of pay in comparison to their workloads and the lack of empathy when it comes to their everyday lives in the classroom.
What I don’t understand is how they are expected to return to the schools and thus risk their lives in the current pandemic.
Here are the facts you need to know.
For five days per week, 180 days per year, education workers are surrounded by students aged between four and eighteen years old for, on average, eight hours a day. This includes time between classes. According to a study performed by the Department of Education, their class sizes as of 2019 range from 25 to 28 students per class (Department of Education, 2019). That’s taking into account every class from preschool to Year 12. According to a study performed by OECD, Australian teachers are, on average, 42 years old. 30% of all Australian teachers are aged 50 and above (OECD, 2018).
Older adults and people of any age with serious underlying medical conditions (e.g. heart disease, diabetes and lung disease) are the most at risk of developing more serious complications from COVID-19 (Groups at Higher Risk, 2020). Taking into account the facts listed above, the former group would include the majority of Australia’s education workers.
It has been well-publicised that COVID-19 is spread mainly from person-to-person, through physical contact or through respiratory droplets produced from a cough or a sneeze (How COVID-19 Spreads, 2020). As someone who has both graduated school herself and has volunteered to help teachers run their classrooms in my own and other schools, I know how impossible it is to keep students, especially young students, consistently aware of the need to keep 1.5 metres apart, or to sneeze into a tissue instead of just into thin air.
A school is an unpredictable environment, filled to the brim with people. Not just students – it is full of teachers, cleaners, assistants, receptionists, sports coaches and hundreds of others, all of whom are vital to keep the school system running smoothly.
It has been said a thousand times, on social media, pamphlets, news bulletins: the best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure. Self-isolation is our best hope for preventing ourselves from catching COVID-19. People travelling into Australia from overseas have been forced into 14 days of self-quarantine. Australian residents are being advised to stay at home if possible.
All of these are reasons why I find it so unbelievable that our government has not revoked their decision to reopen schools halfway through this term.
Please don’t force me to worry every day about my mother driving one minute down the road to work in a primary school, for the sake of the economy, while I sit helplessly in isolation. Please don’t force my friends to stress that their parents may come into contact with a kid who’s unaffected and utterly unaware of the fact that he’s an asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier. Please don’t force a seven-year-old to wonder if they’re going to be the ones to pass on the illness to their teacher that day.
Please keep the schools closed.
Missing one year of an education is not worth a person’s life.