Christmas is coming early for tens of thousands of children. And I'm not talking about early Lego deliveries.
Absenteeism is a significant problem in Australian schools. Researchers say there's no "safe" level: Any day away affects a child's performance.
I often wonder how much the tourism industry is to blame. According to mindahome.com.au the cost of renting an apartment on the Gold Coast goes up 77 per cent during school holidays. Not surprisingly, a further survey by comparetravelinsurance.com.au reveals three in four parents plan to take their children out of class for more than a week to travel.
Travel money company FairFX says tour operators are "holding parents to ransom": Prices at three package holiday providers in Britain rise up to 115 per cent during school holidays.
Despite imposing heavy fines on parents in recent years, a deterrent regime – put in place by Britain's Department of Education – is in disarray, after a successful court challenge. The High Court has overturned a $200 fine imposed on Jon Platt for an "unauthorised family holiday" to Florida. (I guess he could argue the Kennedy Space Centre is educational. Not so sure about Walt Disney World…)
Some say BritainK should stagger holiday periods, but that's not working in Australia. Despite different dates, state by state, costs still skyrocket. In fact, it seems to extend the time airlines, hotels and campgrounds can charge a premium.
I understand the theory of supply and demand. But when does it become outright gouging?
Some tourism authorities are employing ambassadors to sing the praises of skipping school.
"I recently took my two boys out of school to visit the Top End, and the opportunities for 'real-world' learning were just everywhere," former Australian batsman Matt Hayden writes. "It's over and above the likes of touring around Arnhemland or Kakadu's amazing rock art sites, or learning about Darwin's rich history in one of its interactive museums. It's the incidental stuff."
A letter has even been crafted for parents to send. This is it, in part:
"To the Principal,
The School of Life has called and requested our family's presence in the Northern Territory for an educational experience unable to be taught in any classroom (no offence intended).
What better lesson in artistic expression than at the NT's fascinating rock art sites?
We will absolutely oblige in trying several dishes at Darwin's three multicultural markets on each week. Experiencing culture through our taste buds is very important in our family
Darwin's interactive museums will tell you it's a significant spot for our nation's military history, with the 75th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin in February.
The kids can work up a sweat while cycling around iconic Uluru. A good bonding activity for Dad, while I check out the hotel spa.
Counting the number of crocs and unique bird species on a cruise in Kakadu alone will truly test the kids' addition skills. That, and the number of times Dad lobbies for us to go fishing.
I tend to agree with those in the NT. Banning term-time holidays isn't working. And it's unfair on struggling families, who often can't afford to go away.
Besides, absenteeism for travelling is a world away from chronic truancy. Perhaps the tourism industry could give a gift to parents this Christmas by reconsidering exploitative pricing.