On face value, it sounds like an overly ambitious plan.
The Victorian government announced this week that it would mandate that every primary school pupil will need to be able to swim 50 metres by the time they finish grade 6.
Given that so many adults can’t swim even by the time they reach their 20s or 30s, a target of 100 per cent by the time every child reaches grade 6 sounds like the stuff of fairytales. But why should it be?
Nine people drowned in Tasmania last financial year – the same number as the year previous.
According to Tasmanian coroner’s case files of all drownings of people under 15 years of age from 1981 to 1993, only 9 per cent of deaths happened in swimming pools.
A third of all drowning deaths occurred in dams and ponds, while one-in-five occurred in a river.
Almost 90 per cent of drownings in dams, ponds, swimming pools and baths happened in the 0 to 4-year age group.
On Monday, a Launceston swimming instructor said the Victorian plan, which is expected to be adopted next year, would save lives in Tasmania if brought in.
In the Tasmanian education system, primary school pupils in grades 3, 4 and 5 are able to take part in up to 10 swimming and water safety lessons a year, according to the Education Department.
They can also take part in a 10-day program at government-owned, council and private swimming pools.
There have already been concerns raised in Victoria – particularly among school principals – who questioned who exactly would be paying for the new swimming program.
They fear the increased costs will need to come from within the schools’ already stretched budgets unless there is more funding announced by the Victorian government.
The jury remains out on whether the Victorian proposal will see any significant benefit and reduce the number of drownings in that state.
From a Tasmanian perspective, Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff has described our state’s swimming and water safety program as already “nation leading”.
Given the fact the that drowning deaths are on the rise nationally, any program that can give people the skills to not only swim but to potentially save their lives later down the track must be given full consideration.