CapeTown - The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) has called on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to include water safety, swimming and first aid lessons in the school curriculum within the life orientation subject.
Observing the first United Nations World Drowning Prevention Day on Sunday, lifesaving clubs from across the Western Cape rallied in support for more in-depth water safety, swimming and first aid lessons to be taught in schools.
NSRI drowning prevention director Jill Fortuin said South Africa accounted for a significant proportion of drowning deaths worldwide, with more than a third occurring among children less than 14 years.
“The unprecedented number of drowning incidents is a call for action to the South African government to make a national water safety education programme for children an urgent priority,” said Fortuin.
Fortuin said although the responsibility fell on parents and caregivers to ensure children were safe around water, the reality was that swimming lessons and water safety education were not accessible for many families because of cost, locality and lack of education.
Clifton Surf Lifesaving Club captain Paul Lassen said there was a definite need for water safety to be taught, because many people and children did not understand the dangers of the ocean.
Lassen said more in-depth knowledge on things such as rip currents and how to identify them would benefit a lot of people in knowing where and when it was okay to go into the ocean.
Milnerton Surf Lifesaving Club vice-captain Ariel Mouse said implementing water safety in the school curriculum would decrease the number of child drownings at beaches, because many children visited beaches without the necessary supervision.
False Bay Surf Lifesaving Club chairperson Kishan Kalan said children who visited the beach often did so for the first time and were uneducated on water safety and regulations.
Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club spokesperson said that swimming was a life skill that all children should have the opportunity to learn, and the reality was that all children should learn how to swim and be water safe at a young age, to avoid dangerous situations when at sea.
Lifesaving South Africa general manager Helen Herbert said: “It is imperative that the DBE addresses the needs for learners to be water safe, learning how to live and enjoy activities in and around water bodies, including research, education, and proactive interventions, such as learning to swim and lifeguarding at schools.”
Herbert said they supported the call by NSRI, because they were working with the DBE and have written the content for the CAPS Curriculum for Grades R to 7, which has already been implemented in KwaZulu-Natal.