Evidence-based research supports aquatic education

Issue: Volume 101, Number 16

Posted: 7 December 2022
Reference #: 1HAYUT

With drownings last year being the worst in a decade (90 people drowned), water safety organisations and the Ministry of Education are hoping that a raft of resources and support for teachers will help to address this deadly statistic.

water safetyDrowning Prevention Auckland (DPA) offers professional learning and development (PLD) which focuses on empowering teachers to have the confidence and knowledge to teach aquatic education that will help young Kiwis survive in open water environments.

Research commissioned by Water Safety New Zealand in 2017 showed that enhanced learning comes from authentic learning environments, says Ants Lowe, general manager operations, DPA.

“Dr Chris Button, Otago University, did some research, Teaching Foundation Aquatic Skills in Open Water Environments, and concluded what we all knew, that the real learning for students happens in open water settings,” he says.

Lynley Stewart is team leader education for DPA and says that while tamariki and rangatahi may learn water competence in the classroom or pool, the skills and knowledge don’t always transfer well into an open water environment.

“Current evidence recommends 15 water competencies be taught to prevent drowning. The water competencies include all three domains of learning – physical skills, cognitive skills, and attitudes and behaviours. The experts tell us that unless all three are working together, the learning is less effective,” she explains.

While many water safety programmes focus on physical aquatic skills, the 15 evidence-based water competencies seek to integrate and incorporate the three domains.

“Cognitive skills are ones that focus on knowledge and understanding, so that if you’re going to a particular environment, what should you be aware of? Also, being able to identify the risks and dangers and then being able to work through a process so you can mitigate and manage them and make some really sound decisions.

“One of the at-risk groups for drowning are adolescents and young adults. Challenging them to think about what they do and how they could manage that more safely and keep themselves and their mates safe is important. There’s been a bit of a turnaround there. Most of our drownings are now happening in the older adult group,” she says.

Local knowledge

Drowning Prevention Auckland supports teachers throughout Aotearoa with a layered approach to in-school PLD in the classroom and swimming pool to open water environments. PLD is also provided for teachers from multiple schools.

Recently a day-long programme was developed in collaboration with Tarawera High School with critical discussion on current good practice in aquatic education and included learning experiences at a river and a lake in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

“It was an effective collaboration working with the school and local experts so that when we were in the open water we had a strong understanding of these environments, which are used by a lot of the schools for their open water activities. The Bay of Plenty has a lot of inland water ways and so it’s giving teachers the skills and knowledge around those environments,” says Ants.

The PLD also focused on the wider picture of aquatic education encompassing learning in outdoor environments, with an emphasis on foundation learning around the 15 water competencies that should happen before students go into the outdoors.

The group visited the nearby Tarawera River, where participants were actively engaged in site-specific hazard identification and risk management, with the opportunity to discuss potential learning opportunities for students.

“We unpacked that as a potential learning area with students. It was getting them to look at the river and think what are the hazards, dangers and risks in an area like this? Then throwing in the question – who would you use this with? It’s getting them to think through that whole process of decision-making,” says Lynley.

The teachers then went to Lake Rotoiti and, wearing wetsuits to combat the chilly October water temperatures, took part in a couple of scenarios in the water, one of which focused on “free swim time at a school camp” with an emphasis on roles and responsibilities and supervision strategies. They also planned and carried out an emergency response to a situation.

In the Eastern Bay of Plenty, teachers discussed site-specific risk management at the Tarawera River.

In the Eastern Bay of Plenty, teachers discussed site-specific risk management at the Tarawera River.

Planning and preparation

Learning about planning and preparation are key ways to empower teachers to deliver aquatic education in the open water, says Ants.

“Teachers do an amazing job but it’s a large responsibility for them. It’s about knowing how to have a really great time and also being prepared if things go wrong. That’s looking at the operational planning and making sure that they are prepared for the event.

“How do you supervise all the kids at the same time? How do you ensure that you’re able to intervene but also enable them to learn about, and enjoy, these amazing waterways and know what to do in an emergency response?

“We teach them about a bystander rescue. We advocate not going into the water to save someone because statistics are quite clear that rescuers do get into trouble and may not survive when they try to intervene. Instead we focus on the use of buoyancy aids like putting a chilly bin into the water to rescue someone,” explains Ants.

The Water Skills for Life Beach programme saw the Gazette’s photographer check out the action in a programme run by Whenua Iti at Kaiteriteri Beach in Nelson earlier in the year.

The Water Skills for Life Beach programme saw the Gazette’s photographer check out the action in a programme run by Whenua Iti at Kaiteriteri Beach in Nelson earlier in the year.

Teacher-led education

Lynley believes that while many water safety programmes are delivered by outside providers, it’s important that teachers also lead the learning in aquatic education.water safety

“I feel quite strongly about this, in that anything we’re trying to achieve in a learning environment needs to be sustainable. If providers are working with their children and that’s the end of it, it’s not ongoing.”

She says that teachers combining their pedagogical knowledge with the content knowledge of an outside provider allows for effective water safety education.

“For example, in aquatics, it’s ‘what do my students need to learn to be water competent?’ A key input is helping teachers to become familiar with the resources that are available and standing alongside them in the classroom, at the pool and open water environments and supporting them to provide those learning opportunities to students,” she says.

“We evaluate teachers’ perceptions of doing a programme prior to going into the water and afterwards and there’s quite a significant shift, highlighting the fact that people do perceive that they have greater skills and ability than they actually do,” says Ants.

“Also, there’s a strong reliance on the belief that you’ll be OK if you can swim – how do we turn the dial regarding that? Because swimming is a wonderful skill, but there are many other aspects to keeping people safe,” he concludes.

Read more about water safety education in previous Education Gazette article, Staying afloat with water safety education(external link).

Research and resources

A day at the beach taught valuable skills to tamariki from Parklands School.

A day at the beach taught valuable skills to tamariki from Parklands School.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 1:34 pm, 7 December 2022

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