New Zealand children's water safety skills fall to unacceptable levels

04/09/2017

Another study has revealed dropping levels of aquatic education in New Zealand schools, heightening concern from Water Safety agencies.

A new study by Associate Professor Chris Button of Otago University shows New Zealand children lack the basic knowledge to save themselves in the water.

 The study of 48 primary school aged children (6-11 years) from eight schools around Dunedin found limited levels of propulsion skills with 62% unable to swim 100 metres.

“Knowledge of risks and emergency response was notably low and retention levels of taught water safety and survival skills were also low” says Prof Button. “This research shows that further attention to how these skills are acquired is needed amongst education providers.”

The results follow on from a Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) funded 2016 study into the levels of aquatic education in primary schools carried out by the New Zealand Council for Education Research. It found only around a quarter of New Zealand schools provide an adequate level.

New Zealand has one of the worst rates of preventable drownings in the OECD and Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) CEO Jonty Mills says if this pattern continues it will only get worse.

“Kiwis live their lives in, on and around water. If our children are not learning crucial water safety skills our drowning toll will not come down – more people will drown,” says Mills.

WSNZ believes water safety education needs to be regarded as more of a priority and directs around 70% of its funding into their national standard for aquatic education for 5-13 year olds, Water Skills for Life (WSFL). It’s based on international best practice and research, and challenges the historical notion that learning to swim on its own equates to being safe in the water. Water Skills for Life teaches foundational water safety skills, risk assessment and the ability to utilise the required skills to survive in the water.

Jonty Mills says action is needed to address dropping levels of aquatic education. “It’s not acceptable that many kiwi kids aren’t even getting wet. We acknowledge there is a lot of pressure on schools but these skills are essential for our Kiwi way of life.”

“We want every Kiwi and visitor to our country to enjoy the water in whatever way, shape or form they like,” says Mills. “An alarming number are coming out of the education system without the basic fundamental skills to do that and this will only see a long term spike in the drowning toll unless we address it as a country,” Mills concluded.