The commencement of electronic educational media in Australia dates back to the 1930s. ABC radio stations provided educational radio programs for schools from 1932. From 1933, Professor (Sir) Bernard Heinze and the Sydney conductor E.J. Roberts put on four educational concerts for schoolchildren under the auspices of the ABC. Interested not just in school, but also adult, education, in 1934 the ABC formed a National Talks Advisory Committee composed of academics who were experienced in speaking on the air. However, the ABC proceeded cautiously for fear of antagonising state governments, which had (and still have) responsibility for primary and secondary school education.
With a federal advisory committee composed of all directors of state education, programs on national relay began in 1936: Adventures in Music, followed by The World We Live In and Health and Hygiene. The Argonauts’ Club was revived in 1941 as a national program incorporating important social educational goals in addition to its entertainment focus, with ABC Commissioners accepting ‘a certain responsibility for the training of young Australian in ideals of good citizenship and the enjoyment of the beauties of life and literature’.
By 1934, talks by academics and radio news commentators on topics ranging from domestic politics to international affairs, were such a feature of ABC and commercial radio that a cartoon of ‘The Professors’ appeared in Wireless Weekly. In Sydney, 2UE supplied schools with radio sets in 1933, while 2SM was broadcasting lessons for Catholic schools by 1937. By the end of the decade, 2GB was broadcasting Children’s Newspaper of the Air, featuring 15,000 ‘Radio Reporters’ who relayed news that came their way; some entered essay competitions on topics nominated by Charles Cousens, who also delivered nightly commentaries. Over 4BC and other Queensland stations in 1934, Dr W.G. Goddard began advocating ‘Round Table Clubs’ for the discussion of international affairs. Early in 1939, the ABC launched Listening Groups, initially in partnership with the Victorian Education Department, to listen to and discuss special series of talks under the direction of a group leader.
That year, the ABC’s School Broadcasts Department was renamed Educational Broadcasts; this in turn became Youth Broadcasts in 1944. In 1943–44, more than 2500 schools were recorded as regular listeners to the ABC’s educational broadcasts. In 1942, the ABC appointed an education officer (usually a teacher) in each capital city to keep in touch with state educational authorities. Dr Clement Semmler was appointed in Adelaide. After many kindergartens were closed down during the war, Catherine King developed a new daily program, Kindergarten of the Air. In Education, Press, Radio (1948), Lewis Wilcher argued that radio (particularly the ABC) had a responsibility to elevate taste and standards on ‘every reasonable occasion’.
Participants in Quiz Kids, launched on the Macquarie Network on Sunday nights in 1942, were chosen with the help of the NSW Education Department. Among those to become household names were future politicians Barry Jones and Neville Wran. In 1949, the ABC endeavoured to serve one group of adults by launching English for New Australians early on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Commencing in 1951, the Alice Springs Royal Flying Doctor Service operated the first School of the Air, a two-way radio-based school education service for very remote school students. Later Schools of the Air have operated from Mt Isa, Katherine, Broken Hill, Tibooburra, Port Hedland, Port Augusta, Kimberley, Carnarvon, Kalgoorlie and Meekatharra.
By 1956, ABC Radio educational broadcasts were going into 88 per cent of all schools. With support from the ABC chairman, Sir James Darling (1961–67), the ABC expanded educational television programs for primary and secondary school students in 1965, when a quarter of the country’s schools had installed televisions. The ABC has also produced and broadcast educational-style pre-school children’s programs, notably Play School (1966– ), which focuses on fun learning activities for two- to five-year- olds and succeeded the earlier Kindergarten Playtime. The best-known ABC Television schools education series is Behind the News, a magazine-style current affairs program for upper primary and lower secondary students; it has been broadcast almost continuously since 1969.
Educational television and video in Australia expanded in the 1980s. In 1982, the ‘ATOM Awards’ were established by the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM). A new ABC charter in 1983 included a commitment to broadcasting ‘programs of an educational nature’. In 1984, the ABC ‘nationalised’ production and 1985 combined Education with the Children’s Television department (although a 1998 restructure split them again). Educational radio broadcasts eventually moved to ABC Radio National, although by 1985 the ABC decided to focus Radio National education on programs for adults, dropping schools broadcasts.
Almost all state education departments have produced and distributed their own educational television programs, primarily through satellite television. In 1988, SBS commenced collaboration with all state departments of education to provide a broadcast television ‘window’ for state-produced educational television programs, TV Ed.
In terms of overseas-produced educational programs, from 1971 the ABC broadcast Sesame Street, made in New York by the Children’s Television Workshop, although less popular than the local Play School. The ABC has licensed a number of educational television programs from overseas.
A major milestone in educational television occurred with the passage of the Copyright Amendment Act 1989, which allowed educational institutions to record broadcast television programs legally through payment of licence fees to the Audio-Visual Copyright Society, now known as Screenrights. These fees from educational institutions allowed the ABC to maintain a school program service even with reduced budgets.
In 1987, ABC Television introduced PGR, an adult education parenting program produced with funding from the South Australian Department of Health. In 1990, it launched the adult literacy series Fresh Start, produced in collaboration with NSW TAFE and the federal government, and in 1992 it commenced a pilot open access university project with a consortium of five universities that became known as the Open Learning Agency of Australia (now Open Universities Australia). The success of the pilot led to federal funding for the establishment of a full service. The introduction of the full TV Open Learning program in 1993 and 1994 allowed the ABC to move to a 24- hour broadcasting schedule, seven days per week, with adult education programs screened from 4 a.m. each weekday, and on Saturday mornings. The ABC subsequently produced and broadcast a second major adult literacy series (The Reading, Writing Roadshow, 1994) and an English-language teaching series (English, Have a Go, 1996), through the ABC’s international television network.
When pay television first arrived in Australia, the Optus network included the Horizon Learning Channel, launched in 1996. A number of other Australian private companies and non-profit organisations have used television for educational purposes, including the Rural Health Education Foundation.
Until it was finally absorbed by Screen Australia in 2008, Film Australia produced a number of educational television series. The Australian Children’s Television Foundation continues to produce educational series.
The growth of the internet began to change the delivery of educational television by 2000, increasingly moving educational media online. In 2004, School of the Air instruction moved to satellite and, where available to the students, online. Only Western Australia remains active in educational broadcasting, through its Westlink digital television channel.
As of 2014, the ABC continued to broadcast five hours of schools television programs per week on ABC1, and a number of educational series on the Australia Network.
The reduced cost of digital television production and the expansion of high-speed broadband have made the distribution of video-based educational media widely accessible. This has led to the phenomenon known as ‘MOOCs’— massive open online courses—and increased opportunities for organisations to become their own video distributors.
REFs: B. Griffen-Foley, Changing Stations (2009); K.S. Inglis, This is the ABC (1983) and Whose ABC? (2006).