Public education. – In recent years the school has had a great development in Australia and new methods have been introduced, especially in the early stages of education. In the kindergartens and in pre-school institutions in general, the principles of Montessori have become widespread and the experiment of the Dalton system and the so-called active school has begun. Primary education is compulsory in all six states, and compulsory education generally lasts up to age 14. After the six elementary grades, education is continued in various kinds of schools (intermediate education): some, corresponding to our supplementary courses, have the purpose of completing elementary education, in three classes indicated with numbers VII, VIII and IX, of a commercial or technical type or, for women, domestic; others, also three years old and corresponding to our junior high school, have the task of preparing for high school; finally, others of a mixed type (composite schools and district schools) respond together to the two purposes.
According to ANDYEDUCATION, the secondary school proper (high sclool) consists of five classes: in the first three the teaching subjects are almost the same for all, in the last two, however, the pupil has great freedom of choice. The subjects of the first three years are: English, history, geography, mathematics, a foreign language, a science, and, optionally, music, visual arts, technical and commercial courses, housework. In the last two years the student can choose between the English group (English, history and geography), the mathematical group (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and mechanics), the linguistic group (French, German, Latin, Greek and ancient history), the scientific group (chemistry, physics, botany, geology, physiology and hygiene, zoology and agricultural sciences), the commercial group and the miscellaneous group (arts and housework). Beyond the high schools there are technical, commercial and vocational schools.
According to the statistics of 1926 published in The Official Year – Book of the Commonwealth (n.21, 1928), public schools (public schools or state schools), excluding technical and professional schools, reached the number of 10,203 with 29,633 teachers and 883,925 members. Private schools in the same year numbered 1,761 with 9512 teachers and 233,566 enrolled.
Illiteracy has declined rapidly over the past few decades. Out of 10,000 people were illiterate, in 1871, 2693, and 1068 could only read: in 1921 (date of the last census) the number of illiterates had dropped to 1491 and that of those who could only read, to 28. In the number of illiterates children under five were included. The number of spouses unable to sign the marriage certificate dropped from 24.60% in 1861 to 0.17 in 1921.
Higher education is given in the six universities which are in the capitals of each state. Although they are not state institutions, the universities are subsidized by the states, which tend to exercise greater and greater control over their functioning.
Australian universities have completely different curricula from ours; is missing, p. eg, each division into faculty, and the number and combination of teaching subjects vary greatly from place to place. The oldest is Sydney State University (1850), with some engineering chairs; it is well attended (about 2620 students, an average of the last few years). A little lower is the attendance at the University of Melbourne (1853) of a predominantly scientific-literary nature; but also with some chairs of engineering and commercial sciences. The universities of New Zealand have a special organization: in Wellington there is the administrative headquarters and the exam center, but no teaching is given: here the tiny and incomplete universities of Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch and Victoria. Three other independent universities are in Hobart with 8 chairs and just over 200 students, in Brisbane (410 enrolled) with 12 chairs, including one in engineering and one in law, and in Adelaide (1872) with 19 chairs. including 3 from medicine, 1 from law,i of agriculture and 1 of music. Language of instruction is of course English; Of modern languages, the only, or almost all, taught as a tenured subject, and not even in all universities, is French; of the classical languages, almost without exception, the only one taught is Latin.
In the major centers there are scientific societies of which the oldest and most important have the title of Royal Society; they all have regional characteristics with the mission of the overall study, mainly geographic-naturalistic, of the respective regions. For South Australia the center is Adelaide, with the R. Society of South Australia; for Queensland, Brisbane with the RS of Queensland, divided into three sections (philosophy, geography and history); for New Zealand, Wellington with the New Zealand Institute which concentrates all the scientific societies of that region; for Victoria, Melbourne with the RS of Victoria (sections: general, historical, zoological and ornithological); for Tasmania, Hobart with the RS of Tasmania, dedicated especially to the regional physical-geographical-naturalistic study.
Libraries. – Australian libraries are generally of two types: university and public: all recent (mostly founded after 1870), uniform in their organism, none really important, many mediocre. Among the universities, Sydney has the largest book funds, which reaches about 100,000 vols.; followed by Melbourne (55,000), Hobart (30,000) and Brisbane (25,000); even fewer are those of Adelaide and Perth. In Perth the university is flanked by a decent public library (135,000 vols.). Among the Public Libraries the most notable is that of Melbourne (1855) with nearly 400,000 vols., followed by the library of Adelaide (1856) with 121,000 vols.; weak that of Brisbane, where, however, the library of the parliament exceeds 50,000 vol. and where is also the library of the supreme court of justice (30,000 vols.), and that of Hobart.