Quietly Pushing Barriers Aside

Every student attending Hamilton High School photographed standing outside school building in 1953

This photo of Hamilton High School in Victoria was taken when my mother was in Form 1 (year 7) in 1953.

This week came the disappointing news that the participation in Maths by girls in their final year of school in New South Wales is declining significantly.  In 2001, the first year when students were no longer required to study a Maths or science subject in year twelve in order to qualify for university entrance, 90.5% of girls studied Maths whereas 96.9% of boys did.

The disparity between the genders in participation in Maths was already noticeable in 2001.  Ten years later this disparity has worsened.  By 2011 girls participation in year twelve Maths had dropped to 78.2%.  The participation of boys had also decreased but not to such a degree.  In 2011 90.2% of boys studied year twelve Maths.

Rachel Wilson, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at University of Sydney noted that this problem is partly due to the attitude about girls and women being bad at Maths.

There are many, many examples of girls and women excelling in Maths.  Jane Gleeson-White has highlighted the stories of three Australian women who are clearly brilliant at Maths.  She could have listed many more.

Unfortunately some dismiss these women as being ‘unusual’ (which is often code for ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’). Yet the story about Clio Cresswell, senior lecturer in mathematics and statistics at University of Sydney, caught my eye.  It is not the tale of success in maths one would expect.  Cresswell told Jane Gleeson-White that she struggled with maths at school.  What led Clio Cresswell to ultimately succeed in maths at a high level?  Read Jane Gleeson-White’s post to find out!

In this post I want to highlight a story of an ordinary woman and her quiet determination to participate in science and to study Maths.  She was not brilliant at Maths but she enjoyed it and wanted to pursue it. Her story demonstrates some of the subtle and not so subtle barriers that dissuade many women from studying Maths and Science.

This woman is my mother. Continue reading

Historical Evidence – Sometimes we will never know

Photo of front of two story red brick school building

Dorcas St State School, South Melbourne designed by Charles Webb and built in 1880

This post started as a simple report of a few presentations at last week’s Buildings, Books and Blackboards conference in Melbourne, then it became more reflective than a report before finally morphing into a discussion about how historians construct history.  Conferences are gatherings where historians learn and share.  However, as a result of writing these blog posts about the conference, my learning from the conference has continued well after the close of the event. Continue reading

Public Education: It’s Not Just About Schools

Mildura Carnegie Lirary

Mildura’s Carnegie Library with WWI memorial tower.
Photo by Mattinbgn (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

When we talk about public education we immediately think of schools. Increasingly we are recognising that education is a life-long endeavour and with the explosion of the internet learning outside of the classroom and formal education systems is gaining increasing prominence.  Last week at the Buildings, Books and Blackboards conference in Melbourne we were encouraged to recognise that ‘public education’ throughout the last two hundred years has always encompassed more than the activities conducted in a school classroom.

This conference was about public education in the true sense of the word ‘public’.  Schools and libraries were considered important sites of learning. The libraries of the mechanics institutes played an important part in the education of many people.  This conference covered it all; the history of schools, libraries and mechanics institutes.

A highlight of the conference was the session about the Carnegie Corporation in the Antipodes.  Andrew Carnegie founded the corporation in order to “promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.”  Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin observed, “[t]he corporation will take from the shoulders of its founder the task of personally attending to his pet hobby of founding libraries here, there, and everywhere.”  The Morning Bulletin went on to note that the Corporation would also fund “technical schools, institutions of higher learning” etc. (Morning Bulletin, 23/12/1911, p. 6). Continue reading

History of Teaching Children to Read

“The almost exclusively scientific orientation of current reading policy and pedagogy is profoundly limited”, argues Professor of Education at Charles Sturt University, Bill Green. “It needs to be supplemented by a more critical, cultural, historical perspective.  One which takes account of more than a so-called best practice or the singular method”.

Head and shoulders photo of Bill Green

Professor Bill Green

Professor Green, along with Research Associate Professor Phil Cormack (University of South Australia) and Professor Annette Patterson (Queensland University of Technology) have done the research to support these statements.  Over the last few years these three professors of education have undertaken a significant study of the history of how children were taught to read in Australia from early settlement to 1939.  Funding for the Teaching Reading in Australia project came from an Australian Research Council grant.  I was fortunate enough to observe their work at close quarters as I was employed as a research assistant for the project.

Now that the archival research has been completed we would like to share with you some of the findings of this work and the resources we have found.  On this blog I will also give you a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse of the work we did to uncover this history.

We have created a website for the project which gives a broad overview of Teaching Reading in Australia, a bibliography of useful references and a list of key archives researchers can consult.  I give a more detailed overview of the website and how it can be used on the Teaching Reading in Australia page on this blog. Alternatively click here to go directly to the project’s website.

This week I asked the professors a few questions about the project for this blog. Continue reading