Knowledge of swimming and water safety can reduce a child’s drowning risk and provide them with skills that may one day save a life. In addition, swimming and water safety skills have demonstrated benefits on child health in terms of social, psychological and physical well-being. Recent trends indicate an increase in drowning in children between 5 and 14 years of age in Victoria. This, alongside suggestions that Victorian school children are missing out on engaging in swimming and water safety education, leads us to ask what our children are learning and what their abilities in the water are.
The first stage of the study therefore aimed to determine the swimming ability and water safety knowledge of Victorian children exiting primary school, measured against state and national standards, and estimated by parents and teachers. Results indicated that three in five children could not swim continuously for 50 meters. This is considered the minimum swimming competency requirement for children by completion of their primary education, meaning that thousands of children are potentially leaving primary school each year without these important skills. Furthermore, teachers estimated that two in five Year 6 students lacked adequate water safety knowledge to avoid getting into dangerous situations in and around water.
The second stage is currently underway and involves measuring the actual swimming ability and water safety knowledge of a sample of Victorian children in Years 5 and 6. This study has begun in the Shepparton region in collaboration with Federation University Australia (Ballarat).
The findings of this research will provide a benchmark of the swimming ability and water safety knowledge of Victorian primary school children, facilitate future program development and influence policy and research to reduce the child drowning fatality and injury rates, increase awareness and knowledge of water safety and increase aquatic participation, health and well being.