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The history of arithmetic teaching in the elementary schools of Victoria 1860-1914

posted on 2018-03-20, 23:02 authored by Rachel Griffiths
The period from 1860 to 1914 includes the era of payment by results, the establushment of the Victorian Education Department and of "free, secular asnd compulsory" elementary education, the Fink Commission with its condemnation of instrumentary education, the re-organisation of the Education Department in 1902, and the new courses of 1902 and 1911. In this thesis, the teaching of arithmetic is charted, together with the major influences on both curriculm and classroom practice. For the first forty years of the period, the curriculum was instrumentary, based on utilitarisan principles, and changed litle. Computational skills, speed and accuracy were highly valued, and in applied arithmetic commercial applications predominated. British influence was paramount, with both the curriculm and the payment by results system imported without significant change, and with frequent referral to British standrds and practice. Teaching practice was dominated by the results examination, and, due largely to this system and to the poor education and training, particularly in mathematics, of the majority of teachers, teaching was mechanical, rules-based and often ineffective. The ideal, rarely attained in Victorian schools, was a highly abstract, rational and logical treatment of arithmetic. By the end of the nineteenth century, dissatisfaction with both the principles and the practice of the instrumentary education was widespread, and the ideas of the New Education were widely discussed and approved. The Tate administation produced new courses which incorporated, partially in 1902, and more comprehensively in 1911, many of the ideas of the New Education; these included, in arithmetric, emphasis on useful work, on learning through the senses, on child-activity, and on correlation with other school subjects. The course becme more useful, more practical in the sense of activity-orientated, and also more rigorous as more attention was paid to principles rather than to rules. However, teaching practice lagged behind the new aims and course content, and continued to be largely mechanical, rules-based sand abstract. This was due partly to the conservatism of inspectors, who continued to value highly computationalskills and accuracy, and partly to the teachers, whose education and training did not keep pace with the new demands. Teachers were not adequately prepared, even for the nineteenth century instrumentary education; further, they were personally uncommitted to the changes in aim and content which were imposed upon them. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that change in the classroom came more slowly and was less effective than might have been expected from a study of the aims and content of the new courses.


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Richard Joseph Wheeler Selleck

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Master of Education

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Faculty of Education

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