Let’s go back… No, a little further back. Nope, too far back. Try the 1970’s… that will do for the start of this discussion.
In the 1970’s, school was an interesting place to be. In a NSW infants or primary school, each student got a daily plastic bag of flavoured milk. In summer, it was warm milk… nowadays, as I reminisce, I wonder about how much sugar was in that “Milk”. Suffice to say that the banana flavour was my favourite and the closest thing to it in taste I have found in the 2000’s would have to be a Banana Paddle Pop or, surprisingly, a Sunnydale Dairies (WA) “Banana Milk”, and yes the amount of sugar in that is listed nowadays. Sugar is now seen as a bit of a demon and a possible cause of many of our societies health issues.
However, sugar was not the only issue that was lurking around, unsuspected, in our school playgrounds. There certainly was not any focus on skin or sun awareness and we are seeing the results of that in an explosion of people born in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s with skin cancers of all kinds. Some research shows that most of the damage to the skin from the sun occurs before the age of 18, and with Skin Cancer the second highest cause of death in the 15-24yo age bracket there has to be some serious thought given to what happens to our children whilst they are in the care of our schools.
A recent study by the James Cook University into the levels of sun protection in North Qld schools, varied from school to school. Smaller, rural and disadvantaged schools tended to have the least emphasis on protection from the sun.
So the question needs to be asked, is it a funding, cultural or attitude issue?
Smaller schools are perhaps under staffed and resourced, so sun protection is low on the list of priorities. Rural schools are full of kids who come from farming families and “country people” are tougher? Disadvantaged schools deal with other issues that again means that sun protection is low on the list of priorities… and as one teacher at a small rural school once told me, when I complained that the school did not have a firm sun protection policy in place after one of my redhead daughters got badly sunburnt, “it’s just a bit of sunburn”. The riot act came into play.
Maybe if I sued the school, they and the education department might take it a bit more seriously? Far fetched? Not if the current push on sun protection in Occupational Health and Safety is anything to go by. “Just a bit of sunburn” can and does kill, so why should we not make the education department more responsible for its duty of care?
School uniforms with long sleeves and hats as a minimum plus mandatory application of sunscreen before recess and lunchtime breaks. No hat, no play. Seems fair to me… the kids will thank me later.