Around 100 Victorian schools were shut this week as floodwaters rose in parts of the state.
For many, the closures will bring back memories of rolling lockdowns and remote learning during the pandemic, with kids forced back home instead of being in the classroom.
And with summer fast approaching, extreme weather could disrupt learning even further.
So, what more could Australian schools do to better prepare and adapt to changing conditions?
Educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg said Australia could emulate changes adopted in Singapore to better prepare for disasters.
"Singapore is probably the only country that had systematic plans and strategies for external shocks due to their past experience with SARS," he said.
"Like Singapore, we should work towards finding an alternative way to respond to future disaster situations, in which education practices have to re-adapt."
Dr Sahlberg, who is a professor of education at Southern Cross University in Lismore, said Australia's curriculum was slow to respond not just to disasters, but even simple changes in day-to-day learning have been stymied by bureaucratic oversight.
"I have worked with many of the schools and they always have to ask permission from somebody to make simple changes like giving children more recess time," Dr Sahlberg said.
"We need to have trust in our educators and be flexible by allowing schools to make certain decisions that will better fit their systems, during uncertain situations in the future."
These are lessons Dr Sahlberg said Singapore has successfully learned — and could teach Australia.
'Not the only pathway to a successful life'
Singapore's school system is among the world's best — with its students consistently scoring near the top in education rankings in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Australia sits around the OECD average in these rankings, but has seen a decline in reading as well as mathematics and science in recent years.
Although known for its competitiveness, in recent years Singapore has implemented a raft of reforms aimed at easing the burden on students while still maintaining a high level of academic success.
Singaporean educator and scholar Pak Tee Ng said this demonstrated the system's ability to adapt not just to disasters but to a changing world.
"We want to open up many pathways so that students of diverse abilities can find success in their own ways," he said.
There has been a particular focus on reducing the number of mid-year school exams and expanding activities based on students' interests.
Singaporean school student Brinda Manimaran, 16, said the new approach has been positive.
"Every school does student-directed learning differently but they all give a platform for students to share what they have learned during that time, whether it be a new hobby like crocheting, learning a new skill or language," Brinda said.
Dr Ng said a more self-directed approach for students both freed up education resources and also empowered students to take control of their own learning.
Teachers and schools were also given room to make independent decisions in the face of disruption — like during COVID, for example.
It was a concept Mr Sahlberg said could be beneficial to Australia in the event of disasters.
"We have bushfires and flooding … I think that one important lesson here for Australia would be to see how we can make the system more flexible.
"Here, it's much more about waiting for this central office in the state to tell the schools what to do."
At the same time, he said that Australia does not have one education system like Singapore, "so we don't have this luxury of having rapid communication with other school leaders".
Online teaching a permanent fixture
The pandemic also accelerated a shift away from classroom learning in Singapore — online teaching has now become a permanent fixture for many schools.
"Schools continue to use a national online learning portal called Student Learning Space (SLS), where teachers can create and publish online learning content for students to access in a self-directed manner," Dr Ng said.
"It was created in 2018 but gained popularity during the pandemic, which shows that Singapore's education system is in a constant state of improving and adapting to the changing environment."
Experts said there were several areas many Australian schools would need to address before remote learning could become a more permanent part of the curriculum.
Dr Sahlberg said the main issue appeared to be inequality — disadvantaged schools often lacked the technical and human resources for online teaching.
A report from the Australian Academy of Science found that the move to online learning in Australia may have negatively impacted almost half of Australian students from low socio-economic backgrounds and with special learning needs.
"COVID-19 is not over yet, we are still living in a pandemic world but it has helped us see more clearly how harmful inequality can be in education," Dr Sahlberg said.
With more school closures likely in the event of extreme weather, Dr Sahlberg said Australia needs to focus on addressing inequality between schools before it can successfully implement an effective remote learning strategy.
In Singapore, Dr Ng believes addressing inequality has helped lift academic standards, student wellbeing and disaster preparedness.
"In Singapore, we aim to be an excellent school system for all young people, not just some excellent schools for some," he said.
And with many Australian schools struggling to attract new teachers, particularly those in rural areas which are often the most disadvantaged, Dr Ng said "education is investment, not expenditure".
"Educators are nation builders, so we make sure that teachers are respected in society," he said.
What is the government doing to help Australian schools?
A spokesperson for the Federal Department of Education said Singapore's impressive results should be commended.
"However, there are many differences between the education systems and national cultures in Singapore and Australia," they said.
One of the key differences is "Singapore's emphasis on academic streaming with students being designated into one of three bands at the start of secondary school".
"Australia has a unique education system with many strengths, and looks to many countries in the world— including but not limited to Singapore — to assess opportunities for improvement."
The spokesperson said the government was taking steps to address inequality in education at all levels.
"However, large equity-based gaps in achievement persist, and the government recognises that the need for these to be addressed through funding and policy reform," they said.
They said the government recently introduced legislation to reduce out-of-pocket costs for early childhood education and care for 1.2 million families and other measures to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
They added that the government "seeks to address education inequity through the recurrent needs-based school funding model and targeted programs designed to support students".
The government said it was also investing in universities to address student equity and providing 20,000 additional Commonwealth-supported places in the next two years targeted at skills shortages.
A spokesperson for the NSW department of education said the state government was committed to ensuring "students across all schools have equal access to their chosen career, training or tertiary education pathway".
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, our schools did a terrific job offering online learning and providing quality curriculum materials and instruction to their students," a spokesperson said.
"Schools have fine-tuned processes for supporting their students and are prepared to handle situations like flooding or other emergencies, if they arise."
Dr Sahlberg said until Australia addresses education inequality, real change will be difficult to manifest.
"Only when society in general accepts that equitable education can benefit all, not just some of us, will there be a significant improvement in our school systems."