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Education – Young People and the Environment

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Tags: Young People, Environment, Climate Change

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, are you aware that Mission Australia does an annual survey of young people and what young people are interested and concerned in? Their recent survey this year is outstanding across Australia, but especially for Tasmania, in what it says young people are concerned about? It was a large sample of 15 to 19 year olds in Tasmania. The survey found that the most important issue for young Tasmanians is the environment. That is a big shift. Over 780, I think, or 44 per cent of young people who were involved in the study ranked the environment as the most important issue for them. Well above even things like housing or employment. It says a lot about young people in Tasmania today. Only two years ago that figure was 15 per cent. There has been a huge step-up in the environment becoming the most important issue for young people, 15 to 19 year olds in Tasmania.

You would be well aware that we're in a climate emergency. Young people more than anything need to have conversations about it and have leadership -

CHAIR -Question, Dr Woodruff?

Dr WOODRUFF - How are you adjusting the curriculum and the resourcing? How are you pivoting the teaching for young students of all years, especially high school but younger students too, to focus on climate change and to focus on the changes in biodiversity that are happening?

Mr ROCKLIFF - I acknowledge the survey. I have three daughters, aged 15, 13 and 12. They have raised issues around environment with me. I am not surprised to see that increase or concern. That was reflected when I went along with Ms O'Connor, Mr Willie, Mr Jaensch and most heads of department to the Children's Commissioner forum in Launceston for our outstanding young people across a range of issues, including a number that were spoken about today. Mental health and wellbeing and issues of climate were raised.

A key component in working with our students is to support and encourage them to be informed about the issues that are important to them. Of course, climate change is important to them. Sustainability is a cross-curriculum priority in the Australian curriculum and therefore a focus for Tasmanian schools, as it should be. Sustainability education is futures oriented, focusing on protecting environments and creating more ecologically and socially just worlds through informed action. Sustainable actions contribute to the reduction of the impact of climate change.

Regarding the curriculum in schools, the department of Education advocates a balanced approach that considers all evidence and aspects of issues such as climate change. Learners are encouraged to think and act with a future-focused approach. Climate change is one global issue that schools or students may choose to investigate with the humanities and social sciences curriculum. Where points of view differ about global issues such climate change learners are encouraged to explore different perspectives and reasons to make informed decisions.

Dr WOODRUFF - What does that mean? Why are you focusing on that when it comes to climate change? That is disturbing to single out climate change like that. There are no substantial different points of view. That sounds like a relic from five years ago when there was still climate denialism operating. I hope you can assure Tasmanians and young people there is no spectre of climate denialism at all in the education system in Tasmania.

Mr ROCKLIFF - We want an informed student cohort when it comes to all matters of climate change and you would agree with that. I think you have misinterpreted what I have just -

Dr WOODRUFF - You would understand the context.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I think you have misunderstood the context in that. I have witnessed on a number of occasions the participation of students across Tasmania in climate rallies, for example, in the north and north west and the south of the state. People having their say; attending those rallies, provided our students are safe which is the most important thing, they are having their say. That is a really good thing.

You would be aware of our learning centres around the state. There are five key areas, one of which is sustainability. Alongside Hobart College we have a sustainability centre. There is a lot happening in our schools. We are encouraging discussion and debate, and we are encouraging the student voice to come to the fore. That is critical and important.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, did you put any money into this budget for additional social workers and additional school psychologists because the other part of coming to terms with the changing world for young people is an increasing amount of climate anxiety among a whole range of other mental health issues? That needs to be carefully walked through including conversations with experts as well as the whole school community. Is there more money in your Budget this year for school psychologists and social workers and if so how much?

Mr ROCKLIFF - We are taking a whole-of-investment approach to these matters. You are talking of an area of wellbeing. Is that what you are referring to, school psychologists and social workers?

Dr WOODRUFF - In general across Tasmanian schools how much extra funding has been put into school psychologists and social workers in this Budget?

Mr ROCKLIFF - I detailed to you a couple of times our investment of $14 million over the 2020-21 Budget and forward Estimates in the trauma initiative, which is significant. That is a key investment. I do not want to repeat myself.

As I have said, 33 schools have received targeted funding to build capacity in their school to support students impacted by trauma. The model also includes a component to support individual students. Schools that have received funding to support individual students have reported on the beneficial impact upon their students' wellbeing and engagement.

We will continue to invest. We have record numbers of professional support staff including social workers and psychologists and we have seen that since we came to Government. The reintroduction of school nurses.

Dr WOODRUFF - Do you want to take this on notice, or is there no extra money in this Budget for school psychologists?

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff the minister is answering.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I have just answered.

Dr WOODRUFF - But that is all past or general. It is not specific.

Mr ROCKLIFF - We support our students where they need support.

Dr WOODRUFF - Not through social workers in particular. You don't see there needs to be more? Given the current climate, the disruptions, everything that is happening to school students you did not think that was a particular area that needed extra investment?

Mr ROCKLIFF - We are investing, Dr Woodruff. We have been through a big year and I was very concerned about our students' mental health and wellbeing as a result of the disruption due to COVID 19. We have surveyed our students and we are listening to our student voice through those surveys and other means.

Mr BULLARD - Dr Woodruff, COVID-19 taught us a lot about supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our learners. One thing it showed us is that we need to take a universal and then a more targeted approach to the way we do that. During COVID-19 we established a student wellbeing team in every school, so there is a team of leaders within the school whose remit was to ensure that children and young people learning from home or on site were tracking well. Those teams remain in place, so that is universal support for every learner every day for those small things that may send learners off or not be in a position to learn.

The support you are talking about is targeted support for learners who have more ongoing or intractable issues to do with psychologists and social workers. As the minister has previously said, there has been an investment over a number of years in growing that number of FTEs. At the top where we previously haven't had a focus is children with particularly complex needs, children with behavioural issues or who are affected by trauma, and that is where the money the minister refers to comes in. It provides two things. It provides more support to a number of schools impacted by trauma so that they can employ additional staff or resources, but it also provides funding for particularly complex cases of students with trauma so that we can coordinate a response with other agencies.

The other thing that came to the fore during COVID-19 is that the responsibility or remit of the department only goes so far. Working in partnership with Communities Tasmania around our vulnerable cohort has allowed us to explore ways that we can provide a more coordinated approach agencies, which I think is really important. Out of that has come an agreement between the agencies to develop a case management system. Both sides will have a single view of our children and young people with complex needs and will be able to coordinate a case management response for those children and young people. At the moment that is being done through the vulnerable student panels that you might have heard about but we will have an IT solution that underpins that.