School virus debate as national death toll climbs

Most Australian students will complete term two online as education ministers thrash out a plan for those in their final year of school, as deaths from coronavirus jumped to 41 overnight.

Glenunga International High School teacher Cindy Bunder conducting an online class. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Glenunga International High School teacher Cindy Bunder conducting an online class. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

A quarter of Australia’s coronavirus deaths have occurred in the past two days, including a 75 year old man who on Tuesday became South Australia’s first fatality.

There are 5,795 confirmed cases nationally, while 96 people are in intensive care, with 35 on ventilators.

With schools shut for holidays, education ministers have been wrestling with how to continue teaching for students when the new term begins, as well as what to do with student who will miss out on months of face-to-face teaching.

Medical experts insist schools are still safe, but parents are being urged to keep their kids home if they can.

“For the majority of children it will be online learning for term two,” federal Education Minister Dan Tehan told ABC radio.

Tehan is meeting state and territory counterparts to devise a national framework for the next six months.

Victoria announced ahead of that meeting its entire Term 2 education would be done online, except for those students who absolutely cannot stay at home.

The state’s education minister James Merlino said every child who needed an iPad or a laptop to learn from home would get one.

Education ministers have pushed a separate discussion about Year 12 students back until later this week.

Tehan says all options are on the table for final year students.

Year 12 exams are expected to be postponed until at least December and universities will likely be asked to delay the start of the 2021 academic year.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it would be a longer year than usual to make up for lost time.

“We are not about ‘year 13’ or people repeating, we think we can get this done. The rest of year 12 is going to be different,” he told reporters.

Tehan also effectively ruled out an extra year of school for Year 12 students.

“Every state and territory education minister – and it’s my strong view as well – do not want to see that,” he said.

“We want to make sure that we can get as many students through this year as we possibly can.”

Tehan’s personal preference is adjusting ATAR scores across the country to account for COVID-19 or changing the university assessment system.

Universities have already started talking to schools about how to make sure there is a clear pathway into tertiary education for the 2020 school leavers.

“What we understand from talking to schools is that kids are working really hard and adapting really well to online study and are absolutely determined to finish their year 12 or their final year and get into university study next year,” Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson told AAP.

“Obviously it makes things much more difficult but we know that the driving force for kids and families is to make sure they do get through that year and be able to move on with their lives through education.”

Universities already use a range of techniques such as interviews, recommendations from schools, and assessing a student’s academic record across the whole of year 11 and 12 to decide if they are suited to a particular course.

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“The ATAR rank is important but it’s not the only thing that gets used,” Ms Jackson said.

“Universities have been doing this for a considerable period so it’s not as if a whole bunch of new techniques are being used – tried and true techniques will be applied additionally this year.”

Cruise ships leave Queensland

All cruise ships will leave Queensland waters by Wednesday to limit the spread of COVID-19 across the state.

Nine cruise ships had been off the coast and the four that now remain have been ordered to move out of Queensland waters by one minute before midnight on Wednesday.

The total number of diagnoses in Queensland has reached 934 with an additional 13 cases overnight.

Health Minister Steven Miles says the new cases was a sign of a continued downward trend in cases.

It was announced on Monday that more Queenslanders will be tested for coronavirus after a handful of people mysteriously contracted the disease.

Health workers in Brisbane, Cairns and on the Gold Coast have been ordered to carry out extra tests after officials diagnosed 32 people who had no idea where they caught it.

“It wasn’t from someone who had been overseas, it wasn’t from a confirmed case,” Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk said.

“And I’ve asked for that to be done in the Gold Coast, in Brisbane and in Cairns, because that’s where we’ve seen those cases.”

-with AAP

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