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Drownings to Soar as Swimming Ability Sinks

Drownings Forecast to Soar as Swimming Ability Sinks

Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) today released research indicating that the swimming ability of our youth has reached a crisis point and forecasts that continued failure to address this issue will inevitably result in a significant increase in drownings in New Zealand.

Matt Claridge, General Manager states: “when the findings of the research are matched with increases in population and increasing participation in water based activities, we believe the drowning toll will exceed 150 deaths per annum within the next 12 years and then up to 180 beyond 2030.”

New Zealand already has one of the highest rates of drowning in the developed world, currently averaging 114 per annum (2003-2007).

“The underlying basis and ability to enjoy aquatic environments and recreation is the ability to swim and survive. WSNZ commissioned Nielsen’s to investigate the swimming skills of students, following a similar study conducted in 2001. The findings revealed the ability of our young people to swim and survive is deteriorating and has reached a crisis level. This decline can be directly attributed to inadequate opportunities to develop this fundamental skill.”

Historically schools were the primary channel for the provision of learn to swim education but the research has shown that parents can no longer expect their child’s school to provide them with these necessary skills.

“Learn to swim lessons were an integral component of the education delivered through the school system but this is no longer the case. Changes to the school curriculum and reduced funding have resulted in swimming lessons having a lower priority.”

Claridge admits that some schools continue to provide an excellent service in this area of a child’s education but argues that the research clearly shows the majority of schools are struggling to provide this service, evidenced by only 50% of year 6 children being able to swim 25m.

“Unsurpisingly we have found that it is schools with a high decile rating that are able to provide adequate opportunities. These are also the kids who are also most likely to be involved with additional instruction outside of the school. Sadly, there is a direct correlation between socio-economic status and access to learn to swim opportunities and it’s just not good enough.”

To WSNZ, this indicates the issue is due to more than just a failure in school based delivery. Claridge firmly believes that improving school based delivery is the most appropriate channel for learn to swim education in New Zealand.

“In Australia and Great Britain the issue has been identified and action taken to ensure school aged children learn to swim. It’s remiss that we do not ensure our children develop these fundamental skills. The Government and its Ministries need to consider the priority and level of resource provided to schools in this area. Perhaps most important of all is that communities recognise the importance of the issue and coordinated action is taken to improve the situation.”

“We know that the earlier the process of learning to swim is initiated, the better the results. It is important to capture an entire generation and ensure all our youth have equal opportunity.”

WSNZ is advocating that government and its agencies work together to develop a plan that encourages and supports schools, and that learning to swim once again be a compulsory component of the curriculum and reinstated in all schools.


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