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Schools must teach children how to swim, UAE parents feel.

Summary: Call to make curriculum change follows drowning of 4 boys in Abu Dhabi last week

Janice Ponce de Leon, Staff Reporter

Dubai: It's time to make swimming lessons or water safety a mandatory part of the school curriculum to prevent child deaths due to drowning, some parents and advocates said.

Their reaction came following the death of four boys who drowned in a big water pond in a farm in Abu Dhabi last Sunday.

Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). It claims more than 1,000 lives a day or an estimated 372,000 people worldwide each year.

WHO says children, males and individuals with increased access to water are most at risk. Globally, children aged one to four years are the most prone to drowning, followed by children between five and nine years.

While the UAE has the 43rd lowest drowning rate in the world, according to World Health Rankings, drownings can still be prevented if adults and children know the basics of water safety, some parents and advocates said.

This is supported by WHO's May 2017 report on 'Preventing Drowning: An Implementation Guide' that recommends school-age children to be taught swimming and water safety.

Taghred Chandab, a Dubai-based award-winning Australian author, who just recently learnt how to swim as an adult, agreed considering the open beaches and vast number of pools in the UAE.

"I'm a big advocate of children learning to swim because obviously I didn't know how to swim as a child. It's not just learning to swim and making swimming mandatory for children, it's also important to learn pool safety," Chandab, who almost drowned when she was eight, said.

When she became a mum, Chandab ensured that her kids learnt how to swim. Her three elder daughters, aged 12, 10 and nine, are strong swimmers. They started swimming lessons before they turned two. Chandab's youngest daughter, now 18 months old, is learning how to swim, too.

"Obviously, we will never be able to prevent situations [drowning] from happening but we can help create a preventive method."

Another parent, Jeff Ramos, a Filipino accountant based in Dubai, said he enrolled her six-year-old daughter in swimming lessons not just for health reasons but also for her own safety.

"Swimming boosts children's immune system, helps develop their competitive spirit, and also will be helpful in unfortunate incidents or emergencies. If she knows how to swim, she'll have an idea what to do in water-related emergencies," Ramos said.

Even just teaching basic water safety in schools can save lives, Sarah Sutherland, director of Absolute Sports Services who has been a swimming coach for 12 years, said.

"Schools can do their part. It's crucial from a very young age, as soon as children can walk, can crawl; it's so important to teach them how to save themselves in case they are in water, to get on their back and float, keep their airways open and keep their head above water, and be able to paddle and kick back," said Sutherland, who is from the UK where swimming is part of the national curriculum.

Most countries in the European Union include swimming as part of the central curriculum in the primary and/or lower secondary education, including Belgium, Denmark, Greece, France, Lithuania, Hungary, Portugal, among others, according to a European Commission 2013 report.

In 2015, Bangladesh also made swimming compulsory in schools to reduce deaths due to drowning.

If swimming cannot be made mandatory in schools, parents can voluntarily enrol their kids in swimming lessons. They can also opt for group lessons to split the cost. Or better yet, if they know how to swim, they can teach their children themselves, Lalaine Bautista, a swimming coach with Super Sports in Dubai, said.

But the most important point, Chandab said, is constant adult supervision, especially when they're near any body of water.

"It's important to teach children how to swim, but parents also need to learn how to swim and learn what to do if someone is in trouble. Don't take your eyes off your children because in a single second, in a snap, something awful can happen. That's all it takes."

Parents' options

There are schools that include swimming in their curriculum. You can enrol your child in one.

Some swimming academies here accept babies as young as four months for swimming lessons with their parents. Others have a minimum age of three years.

If you or any of your friends know how to swim, teach your child, including water and pool safety.

How to be water safe

Constant adult supervision is key. Young children can drown even in 2 inches of water. Never leave children in the care of children.

Ensure you have pool gates and they are secure.

Keep unused toys away from the pool so as not to attract kids.

Install door alarms and always use them. You may also install window guards on windows if your house is facing pools or spas.

Source: nationalwatersafetymonth.org; Red Cross

Recent children's drowning incidents

September 3, 2017: Four boys drowned in a pond in an Al Bahiya farm on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

July 16, 2017: Dubai paramedics helped save the life of an 11-year-old Iranian girl who stopped breathing after nearly drowning in her building's swimming pool in Al Mamzar.

November 26, 2016: A two-year-old Emirati girl drowned in a villa's swimming pool in the Qadfa area of Fujairah.

March 13, 2016: Three swimming coaches and two school officials were made liable for the death of a five-year-old Belgian boy who drowned while swimming in a pool for adults.

October 26, 2015: An 11-year-old Cameroonian girl died after drowning in a building's swimming pool in Al Nahda area of Sharjah. The girl was believed to have sneaked away to the swimming pool with her friends.

October 24, 2015: A two-year-old Emirati boy drowned in a villa swimming pool in Al Hennia area of Fujairah when he went into the pool unsupervised.

August 21, 2015: A four-year-old Palestinian girl drowned in a hotel's swimming pool where she and her family were staying.

August 2, 2015: A two-year-old boy drowned in his home's swimming pool. The boy had accidentally fallen into the pool due to his parents' negligence.

Compiled by Gulf News Archives

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Sep 15, 2017
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