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Australia - History & Background

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Australia became a country in 1901 as a federation of former British colonies inhabiting the continent of Australia. At Federation, six states emerged out of the six colonies, and they retained the establishment of policy and funding for education. Progressively, the states voluntarily surrendered some of their powers so that by the end of the twentieth century, the federal government played a major role in the educational system. Each state has carried on separate educational policy development, teacher training, and registration procedures.

The Australian population was 19,222,000 in 1999, spread across 7,713,364 square kilometers of land. Australia is closely knit into the world economy and is an active middle power in world politics. Its social policies are driven by an aging population and declining birth rate. Australia is trying to sustain national population growth through migration, which has meant a more diverse population towards which education has to be directed from a tax and income base that is undergoing radical changes in the face of globalization.

The first period of Australian education was dominated by the social and moral needs of a convict society which, from 1810, began to develop a free minority. As an exiled society of adults, the problems were conversion and moral restraint. Consequently, the Anglican church provided the first schoolmaster in the colonial chaplain, Reverend Richard Johnson. His educational efforts came in the form of sermons and bible readings, the literature that came with the first fleet, and a variety of moral and biblical tracts. He also oversaw the first hut schools, one in Sydney in 1789 and another in Parramatta two years later. There was no real model for financing or organizing religion outside of the United Kingdom. Therefore, glebes were established (400 acres for support of a minister and 200 for a schoolmaster) in each developing center. Later, this arrangement was formalized in the Church and School Corporation established under Thomas Hobbes Scott in 1825, as part of an attempt to extend to Australia the Anglican monopoly in England by deeding it one-tenth of all surveyed land. The problem with the model was that most land was still unsettled or, if settled, unsurveyed, leaving available finances well behind the expansion of population and demand for education.

The arrival of the Second Fleet increased the number of women in the colony, leading to an ever-expanding number of children to be raised. Female convicts, for whom there was less call for as manual laborers, also tended to be the first teachers in local schools. It was not a promising beginning for education. Scarcity of labor drove up wages and land was easily obtainable, often by grant. A masculine society had good economic and cultural reasons for despising learning, an attitude that remained common enough in the anti-intellectualism of the culture into the post-World War II period.

In 1792, the funding and fortunes of education varied with government patronage. The advent of a number of missionaries fleeing Tahiti in 1798 further strengthened educational endeavors in the colony. They also reinforced the assumption that religion was education. This attitude remained the case for much of the nineteenth century, particularly on the edges of settlement. The clergyman was often the most educated person in the locality. Wherever churches went, schools followed. Local groups out of the growing centers turned to the voluntary society as a model.

By 1814, the state was wholly or partially funding 13 elementary schools in the vast arc from Moreton Bay in the north to Hobart in the south. The spreading edge of settlement (and the dangers of a masculine, frontier society) soon created boarding and girls schools. While student numbers were small, individual instruction and private study was the preferred method. The increase in the number of children (by 1810, there were more than 3000 children, 26 percent of the population, in the colony) meant the adoption of different methods. Crook's Academy, for instance, adopted British charity school methods such as the Lancastrian monitorial system. Larger numbers of students also meant more variety and pressure to provide non-denominational forms of religious instruction. As the formal structures of denominations became more firmly established, however, there was contention over the shape of education, particularly education paid for by public funds. Free settlers who were nonconformist and democratic by spirit came into conflict with the assumptions of the imperial state, wealthy colonialists, and merchants.

The state's aim for education was to inculcate obedience to Christian church principles. For the churches, the definition of Christian implied was questionable, and the order of priority was to be reversed. For the state, religion was an instrument for social and moral order; for the churches, religion was a prime objective from which social and moral order were desirable, but not essential side-effects. The Church Acts of 1836 made Anglicanism, Catholicism, Methodism, and Presbyterianism the main forms of Christian worship.

With the crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813, and the extension of settlement north to Moreton Bay (later Brisbane) and south to Hobart, the far-flung edges of pastoral empires and the accumulation of wealth also raised the need for residential grammar schools to which children could be sent away from their isolated station. These first began as private schools in the classics, largely run by clergymen for additional income, preparing genteel ladies and men who would be capable either of running the family business or returning to Britain to take a profession. The Australian College was founded in 1831, and King's School was founded in 1832. The former folded, but King's lasted, and the Scots school was founded in 1838, beginning a long-running tradition of Presbyterian grammar schools perhaps best typified by Scotch College. St Mary's Seminary, a mixed Catholic seminary and secondary school, was founded by Bishop Polding in 1837. In Tasmania, Queen's School (Anglican, 1842), Launceston CGS (Anglican, 1846), and the Hutchins School (Anglican, 1846) led the way in a system which, under the energetic Bishop Francis Nixon and by the direct intervention of W. E. Gladstone, came to be dominated by Anglican schooling. In Queensland, grammar schools were publicly supported under the Grammar School Act of 1860 in order to fill the rural educational vacuum.

In the 1830s, the central administration was just beginning to struggle with these issues. Its first step sought to break the stranglehold the Churches had on education. As the price of government support for the largely stretched denominational schools each committed to a British geographical parish model, the government proposed the funding of a parallel public system modeled on the Irish National system. Delayed by fierce church-based opposition in the 1830s, and the deep colonial depression of the 1840s, a Board of National Education was set up in 1848 to parallel the Denominational Schools' Board, which administered state aid to the big four denominations. In Tasmania, under Eardley-Wilmot and then William Denison, the dominance of Anglicans in a more homogenous population matched with government cost-cutting meant that denominational schools continued to overshadow the public schools. By 1849, there were only 10 public schools (compared to 25 in New South Wales), but 72 Anglican schools and 4 Catholic day schools.

The growth of population in areas too distant to be governed effectively from Sydney introduced even more variety. The 1820s saw Tasmania separate, and the 1830s saw new colonies in Western Australia and South Australia and the urban centers of future Victoria and Queensland founded. These colonies moved more quickly to urban development and equalitarian values in comparison to New South Wales. The cessation of convict transportation to mainland Australia in 1842, while leaving a generational backlog of continuing and former prisoners in the population, firmly declared the colonies for free development.

Some colonies, such as South Australia, never relied on income from convict transportation. Later, the shift to land sales rather than grants also provided colonial governments with the money to expand public infrastructure. In Western Australia, lack of an immediate revenue stream, and a stagnant population, hobbled the development of a public system for more than a decade. The colonial depression further flattened growth through the 1840s, leaving educational initiative in the hands of resurgent, missionary Irish Catholic religious orders.

By 1846, almost all the schools in Perth were Catholic. This led to vigorous educational rivalry by the new government of Andrew Clarke, the foundation of colonial schools in four centers of the huge, underpopulated territory, and a free grammar school in Perth. A similar reaction to Catholic success in Adelaide was, in the 1870s, to produce a centralized State Council of Education, and then a Department of Education along the lines of the one already established in Victoria. These were extended over time and brought under the direction of a General Board of Education, causing the virtual disappearance of smaller private schools. In 1849, both systems received government funding on a population, producing a binary system of education unique in the continent.

By contrast, South Australia was considered to be a "paradise of dissent," reflecting a lower proportion of either Anglicans or Catholics. Its uniqueness lay in the fact that it had a voluntarily-supported school system planned through the South Australian School Society before it was founded. Unfortunately, membership levies did not go through as expected and, without government support, the school was privatized, leaving private schools as the only alternatives in the colony for some years.

The failure of South Australia to produce a stream of philanthropy disappointed the dissenting bourgeois, and government funding, controlled by the Anglicans, was only available on a denominational basis. The public dispute over government funding was so bitter in this colony that the Governor resigned amidst the public turmoil, and "state aid to religion and education remained the single biggest political issue in the colony until its discontinuation in 1851" (Barcan 1980).

German migration saw the opening of a seminary and school in Lobenthal in 1845, and St. Peter's CECS (Anglican) in 1849. By 1850, elementary education and various forms of state aid were functioning successfully in most colonies. High schools or their equivalent were less evident, and advanced education of this type was in private hands in the form of academies or grammar/collegiate schools. Most education suffered from lack of funds and population, competition between church systems in a small market, economic cycles, and popular neglect of educational priorities.

The review of education by Childers in 1851, for instance, found that Victorian schools were not reaching up to a third of children in towns and did not reach up to half of children in suburbs (Barcan 1980). On top of this, Australia was at the other end of the earth from institutions from which either a flow of talented teachers or quality teaching supplies relevant to colonial conditions could come. Private education or sending children back home was an option, but only if one had the money; quality education was a right only for the wealthy.

Two of these problems were solved by the discovery of gold in Victoria and New South Wales in the early 1850s. The population of both colonies virtually tripled, creating movable towns of gold seekers, new domestic demand for foodstuffs and building materials, and new infrastructure, including schools and Mechanics Institutes. The problem was that many professionals, including teachers, abandoned their posts for the goldfields, and rising costs made living difficult for those, mainly women, who stayed. In Tasmania, which had no rush, many towns were decimated, and the dominant Anglican schools struggled to keep their doors open as people left for Victoria.

Funding via denominational boards favored the majority Anglican population, and so re-enforced the status quo. South Australia was the first to discontinue funding in 1851, followed by Tasmania and Western Australia, then Queensland, Victoria, and finally in 1872, New South Wales. With the support of non-conformist Christians, especially Congregationalists and Baptists, State educational policy shifted into the hands of liberal idealists, precisely the sort of ideals that were anathema to the Catholic Church in the wake of Vatican I and the Syllabus of Errors. Reports attacking the quality of denominational education by the Anglican Rusden, and liberal William Wilkins, seemed to support their fears.

Universities did not overcome their distance from the schooling system until the rise of public examinations made their services central to public life. The Oxford and Cambridge examinations were used by many schools, and continued to be used in the Theological colleges, as a way of determining entry and matriculation standards. Without a local demand for a large number of public servants, the British universities continued to have the advantage. The University of Melbourne followed the University of London's model, establishing a Matriculation Examination as early as 1855. Sydney established the Junior and Senior Public Examinations in 1867, opening examination centers around the state in succeeding years. The opening of these examinations to women in 1871 acted as a spur to educational provision for women, and girls grammar schools thus spread across the countryside as a precursor to the opening of university courses to women from 1879. Such schools were part of the great surge in institution building that swept across eastern Australia in the long economic boom between 1865 and 1890. Even the universities, though planted in the 1850s, did not begin to grow significantly until this period: their move into examinations thus made them de facto Boards of Examiners for much of the secondary sector from this time on, cementing a critical place in the development of Australian education. The role of public examinations, and the lack of a Catholic tertiary alternative, was a major element in uniting the various systems of education as they developed separate lives from 1880.

The period of 1880-1900 was the period of implementation for these strategies of free, secular, and compulsory education. Making education compulsory did not necessarily mean that students would attend, but the legislative strengthening of education departments in pursuit of the goal of universal literacy was the result. With the extension and bureaucratization of government services generally in Australia, came the irony of democracy producing a stronger and stronger center. In time, education and health would be swept up into an effective welfare system.

The economic boom of the period had several effects. It gave money to the universities with additional resources (often in the form of religiously based colleges) flowing from the great pastoral fortunes made in the period. The same fortunes also endowed the great private grammar schools, even while the small private academies were eliminated through advancing government regulation and service. The systematic expansion of Presbyterian and Methodist Ladies Colleges was a major contributor to the expansion of the grammar school form. They were a concern of the State because they contributed to the provision of advanced education in rural areas. These, together with state agricultural high schools, some of which were residential, began to push the regional country private academies out of existence, though they could never replace correspondence education for the more remote areas. Australian primary and secondary education thus took on a threefold form: Catholic, low-feepaying, private; Catholic and Protestant grammar schools (such as Trinity and St. Ignatius in Sydney or in Brisbane); and an expanding state system that was finally able to reach out to the distant rural towns. The boom also allowed the rise of a wealthy urban professional class, feeding more pragmatic university courses such as economics, law, and medicine for which schools were founded in all the major universities.


Australia - Constitutional Legal Foundations [next]

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over 4 years ago

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This site is very informative . It is helpful for searchers who are looking a topic about Australia and its history. Thanks for this information .