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The Ministry of Education should make swimming lessons compulsory and do more to retain and improve the dwindling stock of school swimming pools, a water-safety advocate says.
Water Safety New Zealand general manager Matt Claridge said he "took exception" to comments from Education Minister Anne Tolley that teaching water skills was not a job for schools alone, but for families and communities as well.
"That is just delegating responsibility."
Mr Claridge said that while the ministry championed numeracy and literacy standards, it was not doing the same for swim survival skills.
"I think it is rubbish."
He said that in some cases, the ministry gave schools money to decommission their pools. An estimated 40% of school pools were still in use.
To counter any incentive to decommission pools, Water Safety NZ was investigating setting up an infrastructure fund to to help schools that wanted to improve their facilities, he said.
The organisation was also supporting regional sporting organisations in offering water-skills courses for school-age children. So far, 12 of the 17 organisations were involved, including Sport Otago, which was behind New Zealand's first water-skills initiative, aimed at ensuring children can swim 200m by the age of 12.
The three-year Skills 2 Swim programme, which was launched in 2009, would "save lives", he said.
"They will have the skills to help them survive and make better decisions."
Thirteen people have drowned since Christmas Eve, with 10 near-drownings also reported.