The catastrophic bushfires that occurred across NSW in late 2019 to early 2020 have had a significant impact on school operations. In response to the fires, the NSW Premier declared a State of Emergency on three separate occasions and the bushfires received wide media coverage both in Australia and internationally. A large number of schools temporarily ceased operation during the bushfire crisis. In February 2020, the NSW Department of Education formed a new Bushfire Relief Strategy Directorate charged with developing a strategy that provides direction for managing future bushfire seasons. The strategy outlines the department’s approach to assisting schools to recover from bushfires across the short, medium and long term.
This paper aims to support the strategy by bringing together the available research on the potential impact of natural disasters on student wellbeing and student learning, contextualised to school education in NSW. The first section describes the research on students’ distress and mental health in the short-term and long-term stages after bushfires and other natural disasters. The second section looks at the potential impact of bushfires on student learning and considers the implications for NSW schools in relation to student learning, student assessment, and disaster education.
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