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Visual arts around the world


From: Vicki Leishman (vicki_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Thu Oct 07 2004 - 22:54:48 PDT

I don't think Australians necessarily value the arts more than Americans.
However, I suspect there are significant structural differences in our
education, political and social systems that, when combined, result in Arts
education in Australia getting a more 'even break'.

1. Funding structure of education

Government schools - K to 12 - are the admininistrative, educational and
financial responsibility of state governments. Administration is
centralised with schools being funded on a needs basis. For example, some
schools in Western Australia are classified as 'special needs' - remote,
low socio economic etc - and receive extra funding. This centralised system
of education 'generally' results in highly educated people with a
'liberal' philosophy towards education being in charge of the decision
making processes. Of course, governments/politicians determine how much of
tax payers money will be allocated towards education.

2. Unionised teachers

Australian teachers and educators are strongly unionised. Teacher unions
are usually state based and affiliated with national education unions. This
appears to result in a vocal work force with greater strength to oppose
what they view to be unacceptable conditions/decisions e.g. class sizes
cited by some American list members would more than likely result in a
statewide strike.

3. Compulsory voting

All Australian citizens 18 years and over MUST vote in state and federal
elections - local government elections are exempt, however local government
has no control over education. Consequently, ALL stakeholders have a say in
the system. Politicians and political parties are less likely to
ignore/short-change the educational needs of low socio economic areas,
particularly if they are in marginal seats. Thus our schools do not appear
to be under the same financial and social pressure as schools in the USA to
view the cutting of funds to the visual arts as a justifiable means of
balancing their budgets.

4. Political/Social Beliefs (Wild card!)

To make a very broad generalisation, I suspect that there is a more
widespread belief amongst the Australian population that government is
responsible for providing a high standard of health and education i.e.
private education and private health insurance should be a choice not a

5. Religious Fundamentalism/Conservatism

Some educational researchers cite Christian fundamentalist groups and
conservative business people as being one of the major forces behind the
'Back-to-Basics Movement'. 'Back to Basics' education calls for a ban on
'frills' in education e.g. art. Religious fundamentalism is far stronger in
the U.S.A. than in Australia, although it appears to be on the rise here.

6. Outcomes Education (Western Australia)

Western Australia has recently adopted outcomes based education. Teachers
now have a far greater choice in what they teach and how they teach. There
are 8 learning areas including The Arts. Schools/teachers must meet the
minimum outcomes in ALL learning areas. This has both benefits and draw
backs. I believe art is compulsory in (most/all) high schools for the first
two or three years however, in primary schools - K to 7 - it depends very
much on the school, school principal, teacher, facilities/resources as to
how much visual art is undertaken by students. There are some 'specialist
art' teachers in our primary schools but not all schools. Some 'generalist'
teachers may have chosen art as an option when undertaking their teaching
degrees, or may have a personal interest in art. I believe all new primary
schools in WA are being built with specialist art facilities and some
older schools have applied for and received grants to build new art
facilities. In one particular school, in which I undertook a case study,
the parents believed that art was so important the P & C allocated funds -
raised by parents in addition to what the school receives from the
government - to pay for a specialist arts teacher. This school was in a
high socio-economic area and the school principal was very supportive of
the arts program. However, from my case studies, I found that primary
school 'generalist' teachers often viewed art as being too time consuming,
too resource intensive and not as important as other aspects of learning.
Also, they felt that they lacked the skills, knowledge and confidence to
address the visual arts. This would suggest that if the visual arts in
Western Australian schools are not getting an 'even break' it is just as
likely to be because of teacher/school beliefs and priorities, not
government/education policy.

7. Below is a link to a recent Australian (federal) government initiative:

Finally, I would like to call upon Australian list members to comment. You
might think the above is a load of rubbish - heaven forbid but it's possible!

Vicki Leishman
Perth, Western Australia