Still Call Australia Home
American cartoonist Charles M. Schulz once said, “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.” While the famous Peanuts author is not strictly correct, his amusing quip introduces deeper questions. While it turns out that Sydney is only 14 hours ahead of New York City (and all other locations running on Eastern Standard Time), are the Australian schools further ahead than those in the U.S. and other countries?
In order to answer this question, it is necessary to delve into the rather interesting history of the Australian school system and Australia as a whole. For anyone who doesn’t know, the first British ships to arrive in Australia arrived in 1788 in order to establish a penal colony (aka- a big island where the British Empire could exile criminals). The British reduced the numbers of the Australian native population over the course of time due to newly introduced diseases and militant conflicts (much like the early American colonists affected the Native American population). Once all of this was established, the British Empire’s new island exile vacation spot was open for business. After years of Great Britain using the islands of Australia and New Zealand as a last resort for hardened criminals, they eventually withdrew their “claim” to the South Pacific but had not been as active in the colony for some time.
After Britain began sending criminals to live on the island, the Australian education system began to take root. From around 1810, the British began to see the need for an education system. For a population dominated by exiled convicts, the decision-makers back in Britain initially focused on educating the population in the areas of conversion and morality. However, after years of moral reform and the introduction of female convicts onto the island, the need for an established school system for the children of Australia increased. The first teachers in these schools for the young were actually the female convicts banished to Australia. While this might not be a promising beginning, Australia and its schools could only continue to improve as the years passed.
As a predominately labor-based society, an underlying sense of anti-intellectualism pervaded Australian society until around World War II. After this war and Australia’s official freedom as a country, lawmakers, educators, and citizens alike began to understand the need for a holistic education developed past the religious dogmatism of the country’s origins. Australia today has an education system that resembles its Western (European and American) counterparts.
Australian schools today face many of the same challenges that we do in the United States. Their schools struggle to keep their scores competitive in comparison with the rest of the world’s students. They struggle to increase the number of students who can speak more than one language by teaching various languages in school. They even struggle to produce and maintain highly skilled and qualified teachers for students. However, Australia has grown tremendously as a nation as it has discovered its own identity separate from Great Britain and, it has developed an education system from the ashes of its criminally-populated past. Perhaps when considering where the country has come from and their current ranking above the U.S. as the 7th best country for overall education in the world, “it is already tomorrow in Australia.”
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