Drop off in children taking swimming lessons is a ‘recipe for disaster’

Learning to swim is a life skill, and should be seen firstly as such, rather than a sport for kids to do.

Learning to swim is a life skill, and should be seen firstly as such, rather than a sport for kids to do. Photo: Getty

The head of Australia’s peak body for swimming education says he is worried about the safety of children heading into summer, given the interrupted lessons for many kids during the pandemic.

SWIM Australia chief executive Brendon Ward said figures from a report commissioned by the body he runs were a “recipe for disaster”.

A spike in drownings paired with almost 50 per cent of parents not planning on enrolling their children in swimming lessons, were also findings of the report.

The SWIMSAFER Report found that 56 per cent of parents are not confident their child would be able to get themselves safely out of the water in an emergency.

It found that not only are 43 per cent of children not enrolled in swimming lessons, but 45 per cent of parents have no intentions to enrol their children.

Mr Ward told The New Daily he was frightened by the statistics, saying “this is a recipe for disaster”

Pictured is a child at a swimming pool

An alarming number of children are not enrolled in swimming lessons. Photo: Getty

It’s estimated around four million children missed out on swimming lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic – and we are already seeing the effects of that, he said.

Mr Ward said drownings were up 15 per cent last year when compared to 2020. This is 24 per cent higher than the 10-year average.

“So we’ve we’ve seen an immediate spike, but the thing that we’re most concerned about is the long-term impact,” he said.

Mr Ward added that it’s likely these young children may never actually have the opportunity to learn how to swim, which he described as an “essential life skill”, if something is not done.

Everyone needs swimming lessons

Drowning is the third-leading cause of accidental death, the World Health Organisation reports.

Mr Ward said drowning isn’t always associated with taking a recreational dip. For example, someone might fall in the water and be unable to save themselves, or a bystander can’t dive to the rescue because they can’t swim.

“This isn’t about joining a sport. It is about learning core life skills that could save your life or save someone else’s life,” Mr Ward said.

“And if that leads to someone loving swimming and becoming an Olympic champion, all the better. But that’s not the priority.”

Swimming proficiency isn’t just for children – there are plenty of adults across the country who don’t know how to swim and they should consider learning, he added.

pictured is a swimming pool

Swimming is a life skill everyone needs. Photo: Getty

There are many swim schools around Australia with adult classes.

“So often you hear in the media [that] a kid is in trouble, the parent goes in and the kid makes it back safely and the parent drowns,” he said.

“That’s just absolutely devastating, so we are absolutely advocating everyone in Australia should have those core and essential life skills of being able to float, being able to swim, and being confident in the water.”

Why aren’t people learning?

There are a few factors which have led to some people turning their backs on swimming lessons.

Parents might pick out another sport for their children to try while they’re young, for example. Other parents may have gotten out of the habit during COVID. But for some it could come down to finance, which ignores the fact that there are programs available for those who cannot afford lessons.

Schools around Australia will often provide swimming lessons and Mr Ward said most states and territories have vouchers parents can seek out and use.

Swim Australia set up a funding initiative called Swim it Forward a few years back after recognising this trend.

People can either donate a swimming lesson, or apply to receive one if they can’t pay for one.

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