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Schools lack resources to teach water survival

Update: May, 27/2013 - 09:43

The recent news of children drowning in several provinces in the Central Highland has highlighted the seriousness of the problem. Viet Nam News reporters Thu Trang and Quynh Anh spoke to authorities and experts on solving the problem.

Why do child drownings continue to shock the nation?

Nguyen Trong An

Nguyen Trong An, deputy director of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs' Child Care and Protection Department

The first reason is that adults' awareness on taking proper care of their children has not been improved despite great efforts from different ministries and agencies.

In rural areas, the daily exposure to water hazards is significant. For example, water jars, ponds and wells are not covered, creating a hazard for children under the age of one year.

Moreover, waterway transport safety regulations are not implemented or enforced properly. Many boats are not equipped with life jackets and life buoys. Some vessels have these safety devices, but they are tied tightly to the sides of the boats and are difficult to remove.

Meanwhile, most Vietnamese children lack swimming skills. The latest survey shows that only 35 per cent of children between eight and 15 years old can swim.

In 2010, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) conducted a pilot project to teach swimming to primary school students. However, results were limited. Why is this?

I will not comment unless the ministry provides statistics and information about the project. Anyway, in my opinion, swimming should be taught when children are under six.

Formerly, the ministry joined hands with the Child Care and Protection Department to make swimming a compulsory subject at schools by 2015, however, the project failed due to a shortage of funds.

To solve this situation, provinces and cities would be better off raising funds themselves instead of waiting for funds from the State or ministries.

Local authorities, agencies and schools should use innovative approaches in teaching children. They can use mobile swimming pools made from rubber or parachute fabric depending on their financial capacity.

The funds needed to build one regular swimming pool can build six mobile pools. In Da Nang over the past three years, as many as 23,000 children in the city have been taught swimming this way.

Duong Kim Phuong, deputy principal of the Nguyen Trai Primary School in Ha Noi's Thanh Xuan District

Every year the Thanh Xuan Sports Centre offers the school free-of-charge swimming teaching for 59 poor students, However, the school has 2,000 students, so the number of children benefiting is limited.

The school wanted to build a swimming pool, however, when calling for contributions from children's parents, many said they could not afford it. Some said that learning swimming was not necessary as most drownings occurred in rural areas.

What do you think can be done to improve the situation?

An: Since 2006, the department joined hands with the Ministry of Education and Training to set up a safe environment for school children in all 63 provinces and cities across the country.

This included providing school lessons on safe places to swim and how to react when in difficulties. Localities were urged to set up warning signs at dangerous ponds and holes.

Phuong: At present, most of schools do not have swimming pools and sports centres so social organisations should adopt policies on discounting ticket prices for children at sports centres' swimming pools. These centres should give support in teaching children swimming.

The State should have more policies to improve living standards for residents in rural areas. I know many residents are too busy making ends' meet and ignore looking after their children.

When adults spend all day improving their frugal meals, how can they keep a keen eye on their children? What's happening is that the children do whatever they like, go wherever they want. Children's drowning will be reduced when poverty is reduced.

Do Thi My Hoa, in-country manager of SwimSafe, a collaborative programme in child water safety run by the Alliance for Safe Children and the Royal Life Saving Society, Australia

Do Thi My Hoa

As a person who has hands-on experiences in working in child water safety, I believe the fundamental rules to solve this problem are to teach children survival swimming skills and help parents understand the importance of such skill to their children.

However, I do not think many parents get that. In some schools we are working with many parents who are reluctant to pay additional expenses for swimming lessons.

That is why schools have to struggle to keep an in-school swimming teaching programme going on given their limited resources. Not many schools are as lucky as the primary schools in Da Nang City with whom we have been collaborating under the SwimSafe programme.

It provides students with free lessons on survival swimming skills. The funding is from donors, so both the schools and the parents do not have to pay. However, if we want to implement compulsory, school-based lessons for young children, parents would have to pay VND187,500 (about US$9). I do not think that is too much.

Swimsafe is willing to share its expertise with Vietnamese agencies. Since it was launched in 2009, it has taught nearly 23,000 children in Da Nang survival swimming skills. Our teaching prog-ramme includes 20 lessons which last 45 minutes each. And we have 120 well-trained instructors.

The Ministry of Education and Training has shown interest in our curriculum and in 2010 we helped train 120 swimming instructors from Hai Duong, HCM City and Dong Thap.

Swimming instructors in schools teach swimming for competition but overlook teaching survival swimming skills. This attitude should be changed.

The education ministry has given directions about the need to learn swimming, but unfortunately there were no supporting guidelines.

Rural children have nowhere to learn to swim

Mai Thi Hanh, farmer, Van Ly Commune, Ly Nhan District, Ha Nam Province

Unlike my generation, few children in my community know to swim. It is because the ponds where we used to learn to swim, have been filled up. The river nearby is not available for swimming either because local people use it to grow vegetables.

As a result, none of my four children know how to swim. Besides, there are no places to learn and swimming pools are such a luxury in rural areas.

If there is an initiative to teach children in rural areas swimming skills, it will only be able to draw participants if it gives free lessons. The amount of VND200,000 ($9.5) for a swimming course is still too much to ask regarding present living standards.

Meanwhile, rural parents worry more about money to cover daily expenses or tuition for their kids. The people in my village are too busy making ends meet than worrying about the threat of child drowning.

We know that it is in our children's interest to learn to swim but we are not in a position to do anything about it. We need help, much help. — VNS


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