AIDR submission to 2021 Australian Curriculum Review

The 2021 Australian Curriculum Review presents the opportunity for disaster resilience education to become a key component in the lives of young Australians. Living and coping with disasters is a necessary life skill that young Australians require. There is an opportunity to elevate the importance of disaster resilience education in the 2021 Australian Curriculum Review that is not currently being realised.

Over the past decade, empirical research from around the world has demonstrated that disaster resilience education (DRE) can deliver a wide range of benefits for young people and their communities, including increased awareness of local hazards and disaster risks, increased levels of household planning and preparedness, increased capacity for effective emergency response, and reduced hazard-related worries and fears (Towers, et al., 2016).

Recent research has also found that quality DRE is associated with a range of beneficial personal development outcomes, including increased confidence and enhanced leadership and communication skills (Towers, et al., 2016). Importantly, the existing research further indicates that students highly value the learning opportunities that DRE can provide, with teachers reporting a high level of student engagement in DRE activities (Towers, et al., 2016). These benefits are made even more important by the impact of climate change on the frequency and intensity of natural hazards in Australia.

Scientific evidence from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) shows that a variable and changing climate is expected to further increase the severity and frequency of many natural hazards in Australia (Bureau of Meteorology, 2018). The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted that there will be an ‘increased frequency and intensity of flood damage to settlements and infrastructure in Australia’, and an increase in the ‘number of days with extreme fire weather’ and ‘greater frequency and intensity of droughts’ (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014).

Education, information, and community approaches, including those that are informed by Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge, can accelerate widescale behaviour changes (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). The inclusion of DRE in the curriculum has the potential to spark a cultural and generational change in the way Australians interact with natural hazards. Failure to do so will further compound the increasing and cascading impacts of natural hazards in Australia (Moreton, 2020).

Local communities are also deeply impacted by the economic costs of disasters. The economic cost of disasters to Australian communities in the 10 years to 2016 has averaged $18.2 billion per year. This figure is expected to rise to an average of $39 billion per year by 2050 (ABR, 2017). It is noted that, at the time of this submission, this projected figure is being updated. The intangible costs of the impact on young people’s lives, their health and wellbeing, education, employment, and community networks as well as environmental damage are at least equal to, if not greater than, tangible costs (ABR, 2017).

Young people across Australia have clearly indicated that they want to learn more about natural hazards and how they are directly impacted. The Our World Our Say survey, led by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, World Vision, and other partner organisations in 2020, found that of the 1,500 young people surveyed, 88% think they should be learning more about natural hazards and how to reduce the risk of disaster. Over 90% of the young people surveyed had lived through at least one natural hazard event and over 60% felt that disasters were occurring more frequently (Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, 2020). Young people in Australia do not simply need disaster resilience education, they want it.

It is also important to acknowledge the impact of preventable residential fire fatalities and the need to educate young people on the misuse of fire. Recent research by Macquarie University showed that ‘on average, more than one fire-related death occurs in a residential context every week in Australia’ (Coates, et al., 2019). Over three years, this number equates to approximately the same number of deaths, 173, that occurred during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires (Coates, et al., 2019).

Currently there are multiple areas in the Australian Curriculum where DRE is applicable. DRE enables young Australians to become active and resilient members of their communities capable of coping with emergencies and disasters. Many of the proposed changes to the Curriculum reduce or remove the ability for DRE to be implemented. The Curriculum Review recommendations section in this document illustrates opportunities for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority to achieve this outcome.