Swimming, high on the list

Local instructor Caroline Puamau with children at the Olympic Pool in Suva. Picture: ANA MADIGINIBULI

Local instructor Caroline Puamau with children at the Olympic Pool in Suva. Picture: ANA MADIGINIBULI

THE Ministry of Education and I have some differences of opinion although I doubt the ministry knows this.

For instance, I think teachers are our most precious resource, just as our emerging young minds are our hope for the future. A great deal more needs to go into paying our educators according to the valuable work they do and into making our schools tiptop.

Many Fiji parents over generations have struggled to build schools for their children, so it is distressing that we are now following the trend of developed countries in requiring private schools, affordable to wealthy parents, to provide the sort of education we want for all our children.

But enough of the grumbling, I also know a good thing when I see it and school swimming classes have to be high on the list.

In former years, police and others have tut-tutted over child drownings, blaming them (often inappropriately) on neglect by irresponsible adults. Now something is actually being done about it.

Wonderfully, primary school children even from the kindergarten classes are bused to the pool and taught by amazingly patient people to swim or at least be safer in the water.

Being a household that recognises we live on an island and invests heavily in child water safety, I have cause to be frequently at the pool.

I see the schoolchildren being marched in and out with their towels and bags and shoes and fall about with amazement at how their teachers have it so organised. They never lose a child, or a towel, or even a shoe.

I take but a single preschooler for swimming lessons. Even with help, it is an effort to get out of the house with the desired bathing suit of the day, Tommy the Tank Engine hoodie towel, the yellow plastic Smurf shoes and preferred toys.

Then I run back inside for the sunblock, water bottle, snack pack and swap Spiderman for Batman.

I’d like you to know that Batman is very good in the water. He can float on his face and do bubbling when he puts his head under.

The owner of Batman can of course do these things, but can’t because he’s busy teaching Batman.

Batman’s owner sits on the edge of the pool and shows Batman how to kick his legs, while the swimming instructor wheedles, coaxes and cajoles the child to actually enter the water.

There is some excitement with a plastic boat and a rubber ducky that involve squirting water at the instructor and the child’s auntie. Again, this does not include the actual child getting in the actual pool.

Then comes a song to put your right leg in, your right leg out and shake it all about, kick kick. Second verse, put your right arm in, right arm out and can’t shake it all about because it is being used to stick like a limpet to auntie’s neck.

He’s not afraid, just terminally stubborn. I get too embarrassed to watch and go off in another lane to do a few laps and yet again lose my left earplug. I alert the entire pool and it is finally found by another kindly swimmer.

At least this takes the focus of the owner of Batman who is now ignoring how crocodiles leap joyfully into the water. Auntie is quite good at it, though.

The instructor tries to lure the child with a bright pink rubber foam noodle. I don’t know how he resists beating the child about the head and body with it, or at least giving him a quick whack behind the knees to make him fall in.

But no, patience and niceness prevail and it is agreed that auntie is just as buoyant as a noodle and he can hang on to her if he will only get into the pool. Please.

But now we are into the getting out phase, only marginally less difficult than getting the child in.

There is the drama of having brought the Moana towel instead of the Tommy the Tank Engine towel. Then I put it on the wrong way or something. Did the fashion police say a hood can’t hang in the front?

After that comes the search for the Smurf shoes. Probably got mixed up with the yellow rubber duckies. He refuses to put them on anyway.

I locate some bribe money at the bottom of the swimming gear bag and finally get him going on the promise of an illicit sugary substance.

I don’t see these things happening with the schoolchildren, despite the dozens of little feet that have to find their own shoes amongst the many, get their own schoolbags and clothing change and get in their right lines to the right buses.

Don’t try to tell me good teachers, and swimming instructors, aren’t among our most valuable people.

? The views expressed are the author’s and not of this newspaper.

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