All elementary students should have access to free swim lessons as part of their education

Every child has the right to be safe in the water, yet accidental drowning is the second leading cause of death in children. And all those deaths are preventable.

As summer draws to a close, many parents are thinking about how to strengthen their kids’ swimming skills with those important fall swimming lessons. But swimming lessons at public facilities are hard to come by, and it has become even harder to find lessons in the COVID years. The only alternative is private lessons, which are expensive and out of reach for many parents.

The current system for swimming lessons is not working. We need a new approach to teaching children to swim.



As a Vancouver School Board Trustee candidate with Vision Vancouver, I believe Vancouver should make swimming part of public school programming. Vision Vancouver is championing the idea of a new program that would make free swimming lessons part of elementary schooling for every child in Vancouver. And not just a few lessons, but enough lessons that our children can comfortably and safely swim in water over their heads.

The only way to ensure that every child has the swimming and other skills they need to be safe in the water is to provide free swimming lessons in public schools. Like reading, writing, and math, swimming is a necessary life skill — not a recreational activity. And just like learning how to read, write, and do math, every child has the right to learn how to swim.

Swimming lessons don’t just teach children the mechanics of swimming, they also teach children and young people how to be safe in the water. If your teenager is heading to a beach party this summer, you will probably talk to them about the dangers of drinking and driving. But will you tell them not to drink and swim? Or that a friend who decides to go for a late-night dip alone after a few beers has just substantially increased their risk of drowning? Fundamental lessons about water safety are also part of swimming lessons, and they help keep our kids safe and alive.

The lack of access to swimming lessons impacts some people more than others. Accidental drowning and the lack of swimming skills disproportionately impact Indigenous people and new Canadians. According to a report by the Lifesaving Society, Indigenous children have drowning rates as much as 15 times higher than the Canadian average. And youth aged 11 to 14 who are born outside of Canada are five times more likely to be unable to swim than youth the same age who are born in Canada.

By integrating swimming lessons into our schools, we will make access to lessons more equitable. And we will ensure every child learns to swim, not just the privileged who can currently access lessons easily.

Swimming lessons also have positive health benefits for our children. Children who learn to swim experience positive physical and mental health benefits. Thanks to Vancouver’s public pools and discounted swimming rates, whole families – from babies to grandparents – can swim year-round inexpensively. And swimming is accessible to people with a wide range of abilities and mobilities and does not require expensive equipment or time-limited facilities.

Having free swimming lessons in schools for all children will take time, and it will require the School Board to work with the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Park Board and other levels of government, but at Vision Vancouver, we believe it is possible. This is already a reality in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and the UK. And many US states are also considering free school-based swimming lessons. If they can do it, so can we.

As Vancouverites who pride ourselves on our easy access to the ocean, rivers, and lakes, we need to recognize that learning to swim is a right, not a privilege. And we owe it to our children to ensure they can enjoy the water safely.


Written for Daily Hive by Kera McArthur, who is running for the Vancouver School Board under the Vision Vancouver party.



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