MILDURA students will not lose another second of critical time in the classroom under an elected Liberals and Nationals Government, according to a new Face-to-Face Learning Guarantee announced this week by the Coalition.

Students in Mildura were in and out of the classroom last year, as the Labor Government’s snap lockdowns caused mass disruptions to learning which will leave long-lasting effects on the youngest Victorians.

Speaking with the Weekly in Mildura on Tuesday the Leader of The Nationals Peter Walsh said the guarantee and commitment would provide much-needed certainty to parents and students.

“Disrupted learning, combined with lengthy social isolation from friends and extended family has weighed heavily on young people in the community,” Mr Walsh said.

“We want students to have that face-to face interaction. There has been too much of that missed, not only with their teachers, but with their peers.

“Kids need social development as much as they need academic development.

“The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute tells us that ‘continued lockdowns and school closures’ not the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the most harm on young Victorians.

“Data also shows that country students are falling further behind kids in the city.

“The Nationals believe being at school with teachers and friends is the best place for children to be which is why we’ll deliver Victoria’s first Face-to-Face Learning Guarantee to keep schools open.

“Our Guarantee means Mildura students will be in the classroom from the first day of Term 1 to the last day of Term 4, to get their education – and their future – back on track.”

To deliver this Guarantee, The Nationals said in government they would provide free RATs (Rapid Antigen Tests) for all students and staff, with vaccinations made easily available, and ensure that air purifiers are in all classrooms.

It was to be backed with ‘test to stay’ protocols and a plan to manage staff shortages so classes can always go ahead.

As well as guaranteeing time in the classroom, The Nationals said they would, within the first 100 days of government, make the legislative changes necessary to unlock 2000 mental health practitioners for Victorian schools.

“Social isolation, playground bans and the difficulties of disruptive remote learning has had a poor effect on children’s mental health, driving a shadow pandemic which can’t be ignored,” Mr Walsh said.

“Our kids deserve the best start in life. We’ll deliver and recover and rebuild by keeping our schools open.”

− JOHN DOOLEY