As Australian society, government and families grapple with the escalating Covid-19 pandemic, we are confronted with many complex issues, not least of which is school closures.
Public responses to the coronavirus have been presented as dichotomies; the panic stricken, ravaging hordes stripping toilet paper shelves vs the ultra blasé, latte sipping "sensible" or, even worse, the night-clubbing denialists.
The outrage in some quarters at so called selfish un-Australian behaviour on Bondi beach by reportedly tourists and non-locals sits uncomfortably with images of some codes continuing to play contact sport, including the laughable vision of footballers touching elbows after a game, instead of shaking hands, after sweating, tackling and celebrating points scored by jumping all over each other.
Messaging on school closures has revolved around simple clichés: the spectre of marauding mobs of teenagers rampaging through shopping centres, young children being minded by kindly geriatric grandparents, and 30 per cent of our parent communities being employed in the health care sector.
I suspect the age of the kindly, frail grandparents who would be undertaking face-to-face care of young, primary children could easily include those in their 50s and 60s, judging by the number I know currently juggling grandchild care with some combination of full-time and part-time work.
Glib employment statistics don't make much sense in the daily reality facing many communities.
The question of schools staying open should be framed as part of a multi-layered, evidence-informed response to a continually changing health and economic crisis.
The medical evidence concerning young people being less likely to be affected by the virus is undoubtedly compelling, along with assertions about school hygiene. Efforts of teachers providing opportunities for students to wash their hands, while reassuring, should not be our focus.
The core business of schools is education. The associated benefits of stability, social cohesion and laying the foundations of civic responsibility and moral purpose are without doubt. Reducing the argument on school closure to simplistic analogies of babysitting, crowd control and safety is unhelpful.
Whether schools stay open or close is not the key issue. The reality is that many families are already making their own decisions about attendance and that the more dislocated the normal operation of schools becomes the less likely will be the provision of a robust education for all.
Equity of access to resources will become a blatant indicator of success. Schools smugly rolling out an on-line platform for lesson delivery, linked to pristine home-office spaces with individual student laptops, will not be the norm for many families.
Many simply do not have the technology, internet connections and ability to effectively support home schooling. Instead food, shelter and safety will become the priority.
It is critical that government policies and provisions ensure all students can access quality curriculum regardless of the wealth of their school or their home.
- Anita Rooney is a retired NSW public school principal.