A Short background on the Philosophy & History of Education (in Australia)

This page is a short background to the Philosophy and History of Education in Australia.  As such it is about education as a social phenomena that arrived in the form we know it today with the arrival of Europeans – there was of course, and continues to be, a system of education that developed in this land, for this land, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The aim here is to provide a background to some of the questions that have arisen through this project.  The recently published two volume Cambridge History of Australia has two excellent chapters devoted to education, pre-federation and post-federation.  There is also the Australian and New Zealand History of Education Society, and our Australian National Museum of Education.

Part 1: The Idea of Education

Part 1A: Education as a human right.
An important starting point is the idea that education is a fundamental human right. This is an important foundational concept as we can then conceive of the ‘issues’ in education such as quality, access, professionalism, curriculum etc as issues of human rights.

Education is generally regarded as a ‘right’, however the type of right is hotly debated. It may seem simple to say that education is a human right, but even here from the outset we get into the messy territory of ideology and expectation.  According to a number of United Nations conventions education is considered a fundamental human right. However not all nations give the UN due regard, and fewer ratify UN conventions. Albeit, the idea by a majority of the globe that philosophically education is an inalienable right by virtue of existence is a good thing. It has resulted in a UNESCO program called ‘education for all’ which has operated for about 21 years. The idea of this project, and its significant investment, is to ensure that all children receive at least a basic primary school education. The statistics o this are frightful, millions of children don’t even get what we, in an affluent country, would regard as basic. But wait; are we able to say that? Thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in our back yard don’t get a basic primary education.

However just what is a human right? We generally regard a human right as something everyone has by virtue of his or her existence. They gain their value from a form of moral authority as from their basis as a international expression of accepted values and ethics.  There are a few issues though:

  •  Does it refer to a right of provision or a right of access?
  •  Does the right exist by itself, or in opposition to other rights?
  •  Is it an individual right or a group right?
  •  Where does the line between individual right and individual agency exist?
  • Of course there are also many more.

Furthermore, rights themselves are contentious in a relatively affluent society. For example;

  •  In democratic societies the pendulum often swings to a form of ‘individualist’ anarchy in the name of democracy and democratic freedoms.
  •  The advent of ‘human rights acts’ in democratic societies has confused the definition of rights between basic provisions and individual liberties.

It might be worthwhile here to reflect on the history of democracy and the purpose of the Athenian polis, or the Magna Carta. The idea he was that all people should have certain freedoms and a degree of autonomy in their lives. As society has become more prosperous and complex education has become important tool in giving people this freedom and autonomy. That the argument follows that you cannot have a free and democratic society without a well educated population

The rural school example.
Lets take the example of rural education in Australia. I have chosen this example as it is the background to my work, but also because inquiries were carried out by the Human Rights and Opportunity Commission in Australia.  The ‘rural’ also provides an easily identifiable ‘context’ that can then be generalised.

In this example we have a classic access issue of human rights. The general theme of this enquiry and much ongoing work in this area is that students living in rural and remote areas in Australia have less access to a quality education then students in more metropolitan areas. What this means is not just that they have to travel a long way to school (distance & time), but that their schools tend to be less resourced and their teachers less experienced. Furthermore the students have problems accessing University and other post-school options. The statistics in relation to students in these areas show than virtually every measure they are below their metropolitan counterparts. For aboriginal students the situation is even worse. The context of human rights in this case is that location or geography should not be a barrier to a good quality education.

The usual reply when these issues are raised is that people choose to live in these areas. What this typically means then is that an individual choice runs counter to the states need to provide what is regarded as a fundamental right. However if education is a human right then location becomes irrelevant. In a bigger picture a national economy requires all sectors of the economy which inevitably means rural populations in geographically dispersed areas.

If we move away from the students and consider the staff in this scenario we have an even more complex situation. Many of the staff come from metropolitan areas and are used to a certain way of life. Because their employer requires them to work in these areas is it right that they experience a comparator will drop in life quality. Or is it justified at the benefits of our modern society are often limited to small geographic areas. The teachers living and working in these areas should have equal access to training and career growth.

Access becomes important issue in human rights. Does it refer to for example the provision of a school and a good teacher or doesn’t refer to the end product of education. The difference here is that and arguments of access any school or any warm body in the classroom meets this right whereas equal access to outcomes invariably focuses upon the quality of what is provided. This is the argument that needs to be weighed up in relation to all the non-dominant social groups and the education we provide. Too often in recent years it has been accepted that provision is enough and that is the individual responsibility to make the most of what is provided. However this does not take into account the suitability of that which is provided. Such arguments bring the idea that some people are innately more able due to biology than others and consequently that society and governments of the hook.

Social Justice ideas
We venture here into social justice theory. When talking about social justice we essentially have three main paradigm; The distributive approach; the difference approach; and a curricular approach.  The distributive approach is further divided into the liberal individualistic approach and the social Democratic approach. The liberal individualistic approach suggests that everybody should be provided with the same, such as the same access to education. The social Democratic idea though recognises that not everybody starts from the same point and that therefore some people need more in order to get to an equal playing field. As such the debate is between access to the playing field and skills in playing the game. In Australia we variously flick between these two approaches. The key theorist in this area is John Rawls and generally relates to economic type goods.

The difference approach comes on the work of feminist theorists such as Nancy Fraser and Iris Marion Young. It argues that difference in all its forms is more important and economic issues, it sees these economic issues as a result of a lack of recognition of difference. In relation to education they would argue that rolling out the same curriculum to all groups in society is the cause of disadvantage.  The third approach, the curricular approach, comes on the work of Connell. This says that the curriculum we teach is the problem as it privileges the knowledge of a small group in society, typically the most powerful who then control access to all other social goods.

In relation to our example of the human rights education in rural areas we need to consider whether just haven’t schools is enough, if additional resources are needed to overcome existing disadvantage, if the same curriculum is relevant or if a different way of learning should be recognized and valued. Of course the same questions equally apply to ALL areas and for all groups in society, when we are open to asking them.

Adelaide Declaration v’s Melbourne Declaration
The Adelaide Declaration (1999), formally the ‘National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century’, stated that education contributes to ‘a socially cohesive and culturally rich society’ .In relation to the right to education it went on to explicitly state that in Australia;
‘3. Schooling should be socially just, so that:
3.1 Students’ outcomes from schooling are free from the effects of negative forms of discrimination based on sex, language, culture and ethnicity, religion or disability; and of differences arising from students’ socio-economic background or geographic location.
3.3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have equitable access to, and opportunities in, schooling so that their learning outcomes improve and, over time, match those of other students.’

This was replaced in December 2008 with the ‘Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for young Australians’. In this later declaration is there absolutely no mention of education being socially just. Instead it is replaced with the concept of ‘equity and excellence’ with equity only used in relation to excellence. This reflects the changing attitude towards equity, and consequently the purpose of education in society.  In general I would argue that education has been repositioned as an economic good rather than a social good. We see this especially in the changing focus of both policy and governance in the A.C.T.  The hegemony of the market in modern democratic society is complete, we are all now consumers and the civic rights we may have theoretically once had are replaced with the right to access a market. Returning to the Magna Carta concept, are market managers any different to hereditary autocratic monarchs… and what does that mean for our jobs in education?

Part 1B: Teaching as a profession
In this part we look at the positioning of the profession within the present standards movement, this of course reflects on the Provocation about ‘is teaching a profession or a trade?’ The argument I will take up is that education is more a profession than a trade as it is underpinned by professional knowledge and skills. However, movements to ‘enhance’ the professionalism of teachers may in fact be counter productive when implemented with a focus on individual accountability rather than development.

Over the last 100 years education has moved from an endeavor by those of marginally higher literacy levels than their pupils to a highly professionalised scenario. What does this mean for us involved in this pursuit?   Here I want to engage directly with one of the provocative issues; ‘is education a profession or a trade?’ In doing so I suggest that we need to think in terms of contradictory logics and purposes. As is often the case in policy and policy implementation what things look like on the surface, or even in their intent, can have significantly different practical implications.

In terms of the professionalisation of teaching the idea has been linked to both raising the status of the profession (and thus remuneration) as well as raising the quality. Consequently we get the alliance between employers, unions and governments that teaching is indeed a profession. However when it comes to the realty of the scale of the workforce two problems arise, and small increase in pay or other costs has massive budget implications; and, how does a government control such a large system to get the results they envision in policy.

Within this we also have the debate about just what professional educational knowledge is? If we take the work of Schulman (1987)  there is the suggestion that high school teachers need to be experts in both their content or subject and then in pedagogy. He calls this ‘pedagogical content knowledge’ (PCK). In this content then it is not surprising that high school teachers essentially have a subject specific degree and that registration bodies require a high level of subject knowledge before one teaches. This was certainly modelled here in the early days of the School of Education.  The pedagogy knowledge comes through courses like this one or the education units in an undergraduate course where all the ‘educational stuff’ is taught. Notice how he is using the word ‘pedagogy’ to describe what is essentially as broad as psychology, philosophy, history, classroom management, teaching practices etc.

More recently Mishra & Koehler (2006) have talked about ‘Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge’ (TPACK). This build on Schulman’s work but adds technology. The implication here is that we need to know how technology is applied in our subjects and our specific pedagogy, but also the social implication of technology in our work. Not surprisingly it is a requirement now a proficiency in technology is a requirement of registration. What happens then to the ‘professional’ when we take an aspect of this away?Whether we are talking PCK or TPACK it becomes apparent that a high level of complex knowledge is required in teaching. What is also implied is that the way we use this knowledge is different in given situations. How these knowledge’s come together, the choices of when and how we use the knowledge’s and the changing emphasis on them through any learning sequence is evidence of the way in which the teacher, as a conscious and deliberate person, is important in the scenario. After all it is their reading of the unfolding situation that helps them decide what to do and what knowledge to use – isn’t this the definition of a profession? If it were not and there was a standard sequence of events and process involved in ‘teaching’ to get the correct result then we would have a trade like scenario.

It is also apparent that the professional approach dominates as all models of ‘expertise’ are based upon progressions of increasingly complex knowledge. In these models teachers gain a entry level of knowledge through their training, then demonstrate competence within up to 3 years of their career and then progress to accomplishment and leadership. What is apparent in these models is that the domain of knowledge remains the same, however the complexity of understanding increases, and that this complexity can only be develop by years of experience and continual learning – experience or learning on their own will never lead to this depth of understanding and skill.

The situation is not this simple though. There are a number of areas in which the practical reality of such frameworks is complicated and contested.  For example are these standards about teaching or about the teacher? These are very different approach as one is about controlling individuals and as such very reductionist in that it assumes an individual can be controlled. The later is about what the individual does in the execution of their work  (this seems to have been a shift observable in the A.C.T.).  Again however is there an implication here that it can be codified and controlled as well? Thus we get to the issue of whether such frameworks are developmental or regulatory. It would appear in their career long span that they are developmental as they indicate that growth takes place and also provide a framework to which teachers can look to see what they need to work towards.

The implication however can be one of controlling the profession, or determining the terrain in which the profession is seen to exist. It assumes that the profession is knowable and able to be identified and explained in all circumstances. Such approaches also become bound up with the context in which they were developed, and particularly the time in which they were developed. This is particularly concerning considering the massive growth in our knowledge about this endeavour. The risk is that rather than being a map for the future by codifying the knowledge base we essentially set an anchor to that past. A past that is not value free but in a ‘public’ profession like teaching in imbued with politics and ideology.  Thus in a project like this there is the risk of romanticising the past, where teachers were perhaps more autonomous and innovative; However, rather than defend the gains we need to focus on proposing more use futures.

The practice and implementation of such standards also need to be examined. Perhaps the RSL motto of ‘the price of liberty is eternal vigilance’ needs to be kept in mind in a modified sense. Such standards are often not seen as frameworks of control by people that do the research that inform them, however they can be used by default as ways of controlling the profession and as a form of regulation and regimentation. This dilemma arises in relation to their application. For instance it is not uncommon for zealous ‘leaders’ to want to measure their staff against frameworks in order to then seek to improve their work in areas they may be observed as needing development. However the act of using a framework to asses skills is in fact a misuse and undermines the trust and professionalism that is meant to be the basis of them. It invariably develops a scenario of power relationships which we know through much research is the antithesis of professional growth and developed, eve for those who may be objectively assessed as needing it.  In the end it leads to the question, what is the role of the professional teacher? What do they use to assess themselves and their practice – is it an externally moderated and implemented system or is it something more innate and personal?

Part 1C: Philosophical foundations
Here we go over the key philosophical ideas of education such as what is it and what is it for? Some of the key philosophical figures in the history of educational philosophy and the key ideas / principles are explored.

Subtlety everything is about philosophy. There was certainly a unique philosophy in development in the A.C.T in the early 1970’s.   By philosophy in education we are referring to a broad field that covers the general questions of;

  •  What is education and why do we value it?,
  •  What are we doing in this project of education, why do we do it and how will we go about it?
  •  How do education, the sate, society and you (the teacher & the individual) come together?

Educational philosophy is also evident through the theories of education we develop, and the ones we apply in our studies. These theories are often seen as the specific application of general principles of existence as described in philosophy. It is important to remember however that philosophies and theories do not exist in isolation. While we may separate ideas out this is more a function of examining them and being able to discuss and think through their implications. In reality though no one person holds one philosophy and theory, generally they hold aspects of many which at times may be contradictory.

In thinking about educational philosophy we are encouraged to consider broad ‘philosophical’ issues as they invariably influence how we conceive of and go about our role as teachers. For example;

  • Our view of what is real and the nature of existence will influence our views of the subjects we teach and if we believe there are facts that must be known, or even if the phenomena we teach really exists.
  • Does knowledge exist in its own right and how do we ‘know’ things? This influences how we view the knowledge we are teaching or arising students to obtain (if at all), it will influence what and how we teach and what we value in students and their work – an end reproduction of ‘facts’ or the process they undertake to discover or explain something.
  • What is important in education and our disciplines and in people. Are we about socialization, developing norms, what sort of interaction do we want with students and value, is it how they interrelate with each other and us that is important (thinking classroom management). Is it about the way their work ‘looks’ or the content of it?

The main schools of philosophy in a general sense are applicable in the educational context. In general the main schools can be described as;

  • Idealism – is there a ‘perfect’ education that reproduces our ideal society (often ideas of the classics come in here).
  • Realism – is there essential knowledge to be mastered and obtained (academic expertise of essential knowings).
  • Pragmatism – the process of uncovering and developing ideas is more important, about the big picture of humanity not key facts (the whole person matters).
  • Existentialism – the system and what it vales is misguided and we need to look at other ways of knowing and doing (alternative school movements – ironically reinforces that there is a normal one).
  • Postmodernism – how our beliefs are constructed and the nature of knowledge as produced (student direction and individual agency).

These approaches then lead to their related educational theory;

  • Perrenialism – a classical education based on universal truths to be mastered.
  • Essentialism – Literacy, numeracy and key ‘facts.
  • Progressivism – the individual and their interests
  • Critical theory – uncovering influences & agendas in order to get closer to the nature of things.

It needs to be reiterated that none of these exist as single entities. It is all underlined by the complexity of each person and their perceptions of the world and interactions with it.  If we thing back to the ‘human right’ to education, a consideration of philosophy leads us to ask what sort of education do we want to provide, on what basis of reality to we want that and will it value, and what is its purpose?

Part 2: A Brief History

Part 2A: General History of Education as an idea & schools as institutions
This will be an overall introduction to education as an idea and as a social endeavour. Early histories in Greece & Rome, through to the post enlightenment and subsequent industrialisation and its changes will be explored.

Why history of education?
As the often misquoted saying states those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it’.   It is only through looking at what has happened in the past and attempting to understand the influences on this past that we can get an understanding of what is happening and why. By looking at the history of education we can see what the purposes, intents and dominant views were at particular times in the past as well as examine the outcomes and results of those dominant perspectives.

Ancient Education
Initially education was through word of mouth and imitation by preliterate societies to ensure survival of the group. This then evolved into a way to reproduce religious elites and governing classes.  It wasn’t until Athens, the cradle of western civilisation, that education started to be about personal development and the development of the society.  One way or another (perhaps society is now more an economic than social construct) this perspective still dominates.   Some of the important easy education ideas come from;

  •  Sophists, it’s all about argument and truth is relative. Use of Rhetoric (persuasive speech) as a teaching method. LInked to civic life.
  • Socrates, knowledge is based on what is truly universal. Stressed ethical principles that a person should strive for moral excellence not just the sophists technical training. Students used critical self examination to bring to consciousness the universal truth in everyones mind. Leading questions to encourage students deep thinking. The Socratic method – rigorous dialogue to critique, clarify and uncover ideas.
  • Plato, argued that reality exists in an unchanging world of perfect ideas – universal concepts of truth, goodness, justice, beauty… Idea of knowledge one of reminiscence, that we rediscover innate ideas. His ideas are linked to the preservation of an intellectual elite to govern a peaceful society.
  • Aristotle, focus on ethics in leading an integrated and harmonious life, a moderate middle path. Belief that reality exists objectively and led to realism. Objects exist outside the mind and through sensations we can know them. Humans have intellect and are rational beings who can think and reason, in accordance with natural laws of the universe. Education is to cultivate rational liberally educated people who use reason to make decisions (in civil society). Differed to plato in that knowledge doesn’t pre-exist, it comes from knowing objects.
  • And non-European approaches,  for example Confucian ideas, that order is essential and an ethical system exists as one that maintains order through civility and subordination. Education is a reverance for ancestors and traditions.

Growing populations & the Industrial revolution.
As populations grew and towns grew people began to specialise in town based trades and agriculture. Education slowly became seen to have a big role in developing and maintaining an orderly population through the development of character, the inculcation of values and behaviour and the development of economic skills.  Schools, especially the growth of what has become known as secondary schools, in many ways came to reflect the industrial revolution. Subjects became ‘specialised’, students moved along a ‘factory line’ of subjects and years to get the next ‘bit’ and it was all very much about creating ordered citizens with enough skills to keep the economy going, without causing too much trouble.

More recently education has had heightened concern for nationalism and civic character. In most countries this has been under the guise of civics and values. Critically, these can be seen as attempts to reinforce ‘accepted’ values and behaviours. Another example could be the cold war when Soviet Education was focussed on developing good soviet citizens and competing with America; while America was concerned with economic and scientific progress to defeat the soviets.  The last half of the C20 has been particularly focussed on the role of class in education. much research has demonstrated how schools reflect teh dominant culture of a society and entrench this culture at the expense of others. Similary social power and economic power influence what is taught and consequently reinforces itself.  Have I mentioned economic imperatives yet! Increasingly over the last half of the C20 economic imperative of supplying skilled workers, science and creativity are driving education. Especially in raising leaving ages in an attempt to reduce unemployment and future pressure on social security.

Looking at education using ideas such as those suggested by Foucault we see schools as disciplining individuals. This is reinforced in the industrial revolution idea, but also in the physical layout of schools. More and more they have come to look like prisons: blocks with a straight corridor to monitor movement, a central courtyard, desks in ordered rows for monitoring of behaviour, bells regulating movement, and nowadays large security fences. A number of schools are trying to break this mould with open layouts, school-community connections, and integrated timetables: however they tend to be in affluent areas with more ‘compliant’ students and parents. Classrooms have gone from ordered desks and control, teachers on a podium, to small groups, reading pits, open plan and back again. The way we teach represents the space we teach ni to many degrees…

Key figures;

  • Confucius, Socrates, Plato & Aristotle dealt with above.
  • Locke: concept of the child as tabula rasa or blank slate
  • Rousseau: Did not believe children are naturally bad. Instead children are ‘noble savages’ until corrupted by society.
  • Froebel: the idea of Kindergarten, develop children’s spiritual essence in a planned environment.
  • Spencer: develop scientificlly and economically influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution.
  • Dewey: Develop the individual through personal, social and intellectual growth. Problem solving in the real world.
  • Montessori: adds sensory and muscular and other physical development in a ‘planned’ environment. A more spontaneous education but in a ‘prepared’ rich environ.
  • Piaget: Theory of development (coming your way next module), developmentally appropriate education.

Part 2B: History of schools in Australia
This will look at the development of the earliest schools through to present day schools. It will look at funding & religious influences on early schools through to the development of the comprehensive high school & present funding debates and the public private issue (as a historical change).  Since writing this the two volume Cambridge History of Australia has been published.  It contains two excellent chapters devoted to education, pre-federation and post-federation.

Bow to the church

Education in Australia began in what we now call NSW. It took a long time for the colony to set up any schools but increasingly there was concern for the ‘native’ born children (i.e. british and not convicts) Convicts were seen as morally compromised and Aboriginal Children ignored. Schools were initially set up by the Church of England and served those able to pay a little or with time to attend. The pressures of building the new colony limited this, and it was primarily the children of the better off and free settlers. Rhetorically there was a concern for all children, but in practice this did not really happen.  In a convict society the British / Irish, Anglican / Catholic divide impacted upon who attended school.  This would shape much of the later history of education in Australia.

Eventually demand for an elementary education increased and communities set up their own schools. However in the settlement, and more-so in areas beyond the immediate settlement communities wanting a school had to pay the cost of a wage and provide a building. This then limited the ability of many settlements to provide a school.  The curriculum was essentially basic religious instruction and literacy and numeracy. The basis of these was usually religious or British stories of character. Furthermore, the ideas and values espoused were those aspired to by the communities setting up the schools, upper british culture. This may have been a bit odd for the kids of a colony in small rural settlements.  However, the view prevailed at the time that Aboriginal children were  uneducable with no real attempts made to include them in the developing school system.

The State wants some.
As the provision of education increased and the need to provide basic skills for all in the community increased, influenced by international developments and ideas, the state began to get involved in its provision. This was also partly linked to the religious divisions, the emerging cost to communities, and concerns of the state in developing and maintaining its authority. However, in this expansion communities outside of the centre still needed to provide part of the cost and a building. As demand increased there was growing pressure for the state to provide schools, and eventually for schools to not have fees and make them accessible to all. Henry Parkes, for example is seen as the father of Australia’s Public Education system advocated for free schools where all students regardless of class or creed could sit side by side and develop an egalitarian community.

With expansion of state education came an equal concern about what was being taught. In many ways this reflected the ‘moral concern’ motivation for the provision of schools. Part of the motivation for state schooling was also the creation of national character and the development of the economy of the colony. This saw the churches that previously dominated schools scramble to keep a control over the curriculum, as religious instruction was linked to moral character and ‘Britishness’.  When an academic curriculum was considered it was dominated, until the mid 20th century, to university entrance. This meant that schools quickly became a credentialing institution and linked to social success and advancement.  To ensure that standards were appropriate, the correct material being taught etc a strong system of state inspectorate was developed.  Over time schools evolved into specialist areas, some with an academic curriculum, some more vocational etc. Eventually we had the Wyndham Scheme. and In 1967 the first students were examined in NSW in what was to become known as the NSW HSC. This was the introduction of a comprehensive system of education with a curriculum for all students in the one school, or the traditional High school as we now know it.  This was also what the A.C.T was reading against.

Funding and governance of schools is a state responsibility under the constitution.  Systems are run by states (that separated from the original colony of NSW) as are the associated credentials.  During the 1960’s the federal government began to get involved in funding of schools indirectly. This was in the form of funding for libraries and science laboratories. In this process though the federal government was indicating a national priority, and an implied teaching focus and method.  Since that time Federal governments have gone on to use funding for special projects as a way of influencing schools. Now we have moves to a national curriculum,  national professional standards and federal control of school education – this is in direct contradiction to the A.C.T vision of the early 1970’s.

Education routinely provokes debates and divides, often influenced by personal political and philosophical ideologies.  The most obvious of these is the  Government & Non Government divide.  Some of the ‘famous’ non-government schools were actually the original schools of the colony and / or state. As such they were, and in many ways have remained, symbols of power, authority & status. They often have social power greater than their state based contemporaries due to the students and families they serve. There are now big debates around the funding and governance of these schools.  Social Division is another divide. Early on the division between schools based on location, resources and community was evident. While attempts were made in sorts to reduce these they have never really been overcome. While schools nominally receive the same funding and teachers paid the same, the resources the community is able to provide through fund raising and general support and involvement in the school results in huge differences in student achievement. In addition there is the issue of the result of an uneven playing field where students in some schools have more ‘resources’ because the students families pay fees on top of their government grants, is this fair? These divides have dominated the history of the last 30 years of schools.  We now have standards and the end of class. More recently there has been a move to professional standards. This has followed the literature that the biggest influence on student achievement is the teacher (this is the focus of STS2 where I’ll be your host). However, an implication here is that special funding and programs is not necessary as it is the teacher quality that matters. Yes, but not only that.  Finally we have Aboriginal students. Aboriginal students were essentially excluded from schooling. Up till it’s removal from policy in 1982 Aboriginal students could be removed from school if a parent complained. A ‘clean, clad & courteous’ rule was applied and summarily abused. Besides this Aboriginal students are still the most disadvantaged in our schools. This has a lot to do with the history of exclusion, and the nature of the curriculum and schools systems and its ‘foreignness’ to Aboriginal cultures.

Part 2C: The evolution of the Curriculum.
This will look at the change in the curriculum from a religious text, to a tool of social sorting through to the general curriculum in a ‘comprehensive’ system post the Wyndham scheme and beyond. How cultures of states in Australia influence this will be looked at as well. Importantly the A.C.T was not included in Yates & Collins work due to space – this project goes some way to addressing this and confirming the ‘states’ culture idea.

Initially the curriculum was based on religious texts and instruction. Second to this it was based on stories of the British empire  to instill British character. Similarly readers like the NSW school magazine organised the early curriculum. To maintain control the state had a strong and powerful inspectorate to ensure the ‘right’ thing was being taught in the ‘right’ way.  Lately we have moved from this British centred view to a game of follow the international leader. Now international comparison such as PISA & TIMSS drive public debate, and then policy. It’s not just what we as a nation or state believe but how we compare internationally. In many ways we are moving towards a global curriculum.

As Richard Teese and Raewyn Connell have clearly shown schooling, and the curriculum, are based on upper middle class British values and actively help reproduce this class and their social position.   Class has been the overlooked story of schooling of the last 20 years after a strong focus in previous decades.  However, uniquely Canberra’s social make up makes this less of an obvious issue, though it’s hidden nature in the A.C.T makes it even harder to engage with.   Instead very conceivable interest group wants their issues dealt with in the curriculum, such that overarching categories like class and gender get overlooked. 

Curriculum is in the end a political settlement between powerful interest groups.  In 1990 the NSW Board of Studies was formed moving curriculum development policy from the department to a statutory body. Whereas in the A.C.T with the establishment of an independent system threw as a loose policy framework with curriculum developed (k-10) by schools, and by schools in relation to a slightly more structured senior framework governed by the independent BSSS.  The question in the end becomes who gets to be represented in these boards and committees, and how do they get recognised enough to be represented?   These committees have a form of moral authority over what is to be passed on from this generation to the next and as such is highly contentious.   However, the advent of the AUstralian Curriculum through questionable consultation processes cements curriculum as policy, based on federalist values.   How this centralisation of curriculum impacts on the A.C.T is yet to be seen.

Some suggested further reading;

  • Collins, C., & Vickers, M. (1999, October 1). How state cultures have framed post- compulsory curriculum. Paper presented at the Australian Curriculum Studies Association Biennial Conference, Perth.
  • Seddon, T. 2001 National curriculum in Australia? A matter of politics, powerful knowledge and the regulation of learning. Pedagogy, Culture and Society 9 (3), pp. 307-332
  • NSW DET. Government schools of New South Wales from 1848.http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/cli/govt_schools/index.shtm
  • Early History of Primary Education in Australia. Year Book Australia, No. 2, 1909, p. 880.http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/featurearticlesbytitle/DCF0A252C3E16D2DCA25759000196E95?OpenDocument
  • Sherington, G, Campbell, C. (2007). Middle class formations and the emergence of national schooling: a historiographical review of the Australian debate. In Tolley K (Ed.), Transformations in Schooling: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (Vol. 1, pp. 15–39), New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Campbell, C. (2007). The Middle Class and the Government High School: Private Interests and Public Institutions in Australian Education in the Late Twentieth Century, with Reference to the Case of Sydney. History of Education Review, 36(2), 1–18.
  • Campbell, C. and Sherrington, G. (2003). Residualisation and Regionalism in the Recent History of the Australian Comprehensive School. Paper presented at the AERA Annual Conference, Chicago, April 2003
  • Vickers, M. Comprehensive Secondary Schools: A comparative Perspective. Manning Clark House.http://www.manningclark.org.au/html/Paper-Vickers_Margaret-Comprehensive_Secondary_Schools.htm
  • Campbell, C, Sherington, G. (2006). A genealogy of an Australian system of comprehensive high schools: The contribution of educational progressivism to the one best form of universal secondary education (1900-1940). Paedagogica Historica: international journal of the history of education , 42(1-2), 191–210.
  • Campbell, C, Sherington, G. (2006). The comprehensive public high school: Historical perspectives. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Ornstein, A., Levine, D & Gutek G. (2011) ‘Foundations of Education’ Cengage. 11th Edition, Chapter 3 & 4.(NB. copies of this excellent text are in the library short loan – we can’t copy these as it takes us over copyright).
  • HREOC (2000) ‘Emerging Themes: National Inquiry into rural and remote education.’ Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra. Section 7, pp. 68-73.
  • HREOC (2000) ‘Education Access: National Inquiry into rural and remote education.’ Commonwealth of Australia; Canberra. pp. 1-4
  • Roberts, P. (2005) ‘Staffing an Empty Schoolhouse: Attracting and retaining teachers in rural and remote communities.’ NSW Teachers Federation: Sydney.Section 1 pp. 7-10.
  • Connell, R. (2009) ‘Good teachers on dangerous ground: towards a new view of teacher quality and professionalism’, Critical Studies in Education, 50: 3, 213-229.
  • Kaplan, L. & Owings, W. (2011) ‘American Education: Building a Common Foundation’ Cengage. 1st Edition. Chapter 6 – Philosophy of Education
  • The two volume Cambridge History of Australia