In the past few years, Harkaway Primary School has endured months of lockdown, COVID-19 outbreaks, storm damage and power outages.
Students felt disconnected and isolated as they tried their best during remote learning.
Responding to this period of change, the teachers did something innovative – they participated in a modern approach to bushfire education that encompasses the knowledge of fire experts, educators and the children themselves.
This approach, based on the research of Dr Briony Towers, has been developed through a collaborative multi-sector process, supported and jointly funded by CFA and the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action as part of the Victorian Government’s Safer Together initiative. Natural Hazards Research Australia also contributed funding.
The result was an engaging, transformative classroom experience, delivered by teachers and supported by experts. The local CFA brigade and the Department of Education’s emergency management officer also pitched in.
Students learned about fire ecology, Aboriginal cultural burning, bushfire behaviour and risk. They identified and discussed local problems in their school community and designed solutions with the help of subject matter experts.
They produced impressive and engaging projects that made tangible contributions to disaster risk reduction, including videos, animations, websites and video games. They covered topics such as emergency management planning, property preparation, cultural burning and much more.
“It’s very important kids learn about bushfires, as they can carry the knowledge they have gained into their older life,” said one student. “It’s been fun. We’ve learned a lot and it’s been a really great experience,” said another.
This trial showed how students can make meaningful contributions to disaster resilience in their local community and gain important life skills in the process. The program is being taken up by more schools across Victoria, where we hope to see more children playing an active role in reducing bushfire risk.
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