University Of Tasmania
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The effect of poverty and politics on the development of Tasmanian state education 1900-1950

posted on 2023-05-27, 15:51 authored by Selth, DV
Few Tasmanians believed education was important in the early years of the twentieth century, and poverty and conservatism were the most influential forces in society. There was no public pressure to compel politicians to assist the development of education in the State, or to support members of the profession who endeavoured to do so. As a result, education in Tasmania has been more influenced by politics than by matters of professional concern, and in turn the politicians have been more influenced by the state of the economy than the needs of the children. Educational leadership was often unproductive because of the lack of political support, and political leadership was not fully productive because its aims were political rather than educational. Poverty and conservatism led to frustration that caused qualified and enthusiastic young teachers to seek higher salaries and a more congenial atmosphere elsewhere, and also created bitterness and resentment of those who were able to implement educational policies, with less dependence on the state of the economy or the mood of Parliament. Thus politics, philosophy, emotion and economics are inextricably tangled in the story of the development of education in Tasmania. In 1900 nearly 40% of Tasmanian children were not enrolled in any school, and about half the others attended only intermittently. Schools were badly built and overcrowded. About 30% of the teachers had been trained as pupil-teachers; the others had received no professional training of any kind. Some of the non-state schools provided a good education for the children of the few citizens who believed that education was valuable, and this appeared to many to decrease the need for the Government to improve its own education services. The State was poor, the landed gentry established in Parliament refused to increase taxation rates to finance government services, and isolation bred suspicion of innovations. The gradual improvement of the State's education services began with the appointment of W.L. Neale as Director of Education in 1904. He was a man of outstanding ability, with a vision of an ideal education system directed by a strong central authority, but bitter opposition to him and his policies by most of the teachers and the politicians forced him to resign in 1909. Education received strong political support for the first time when J.A. Lyons entered Parliament in 1909, and particularly when he was Minister for Education (1914 - 1916) and Premier (1923 - 1928) in Labour Governments, but the periods of Labour rule were brief and infrequent. G.V. Brooks, McCoy's successor, was a man of considerable enthusiasm but limited experience, and not strong enough to persuade the politicians or the public that greater support should be given to education. Until the end of the Great Depression the State's poverty and the lack of public support caused most politicians to give no more than lip service to education. Educational development languished. Young teachers sought higher salaries and a more congenial atmosphere elsewhere, and the well-qualified, more easily able to obtain other positions, were the first to leave. A.G. Ogilvie became Premier in 1934, and the State's revenue was increased at the same time by the establishment of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Thus Ogilvie was able to assist education and all other state services. Area schools were established, with immediate success, and experiments in several fields were encouraged. Political support for the opinions of the senior officers of the Education Department caused the University to abolish the intermediate examinations which it conducted, creating a bitter dispute between the Education Department and the Public Schools, which feared that the accreditation system proposed by the Education Department as an alternative was a first step towards political control of the Public Schools. The difficulties of war-time were considerable, but they were accentuated by Ogilvie's successor, Robert Cosgrove, who for political purposes raised the leaving age to sixteen years before the State was able to provide sufficient teachers or even classrooms to meet the needs of the greater number of children in its schools. As a result, the standard of education in these schools was low and public regard for education fell. At the same time rising prices and the demands of post-war reconstruction caused Parliament to withhold from the Education Department the financial assistance it needed. There was insufficient public demand to force the politicians to give education a higher priority.


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Copyright 1969 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Bibliography: in vol. 2. Thesis (MA) - University of Tasmania, 1969

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