Friday, 18 August 2017 10:39

"Nugget" Coombs On Education Featured

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On Saturday 1st September 1973 Dr H.C. "Nugget" Coombs, then consultant to Prime Minister Whitlam, gave a speech at the official opening of the new Birchgrove premises Chiron College had moved to from the City.

Thirty eight years later I came across a copy of the speech among his Papers in the Manuscript Collections of the National Library of Australia. Reading it reminded me of how enthusiastic we all were about offering a new approach to education to replace the existing authoritarian system.

Here are some passages from his speech :

"….today it is more exciting and rewarding to be involved in the education process whether as a student or teacher. There seems to be a new flexibility, a new prospect for innovation and an encouraging ferment of scepticism <among> the sacred cows of the traditional pedagogy. At such times significant change can occur. I genuinely hope that this school will be in the van of such change."

"In the past there has been a depressing uniformity imposed on the State educational system, frequently in the face of determination on the part of teachers to break away from that uniformity. The opportunities to experiment and develop a different philosophy of education …have been realised only to a negligible degree. Where there has been imagination, it has generally been stultified."

"The educationalists are rebelling against the tendency to see the school and the teacher as the channel through which experience shall be received - and therefore by which it shall be ordered, shaped and related to the world in general. Against this tendency it is right and proper for the young and those who care for them to rebel."

"The freedom to explore, the freedom to discover and the freedom to judge … is the fundamental right of every evolving creature at whatever stage of its life - and above all the right of the human child."

"I am greatly concerned with some aspects of contemporary school practice which tries to bring to the child experience of the arts - of theatre, music, painting and sculpture - through the filtering mechanism of the relationship between child and teacher. As observers, and even now practitioners and creators (and any child is a practitioner and creator in the arts), children should meet the arts face to face. If intermediaries are unavoidable, those intermediaries themselves should be artists - those who by their practice observed, can communicate the excitement involved in creative activity in the arts. In the arts above all one can learn only by doing."

Sadly, conservatism returned suppressing significant change. But many more voices are emerging again advocating for a new system of education in tune with the values expressed here!

These 'Old Ideas' are still 'New' ! Are we still just talking the talk?


Dr H. C. 'Nugget' Coombs was one of Australia's most outstanding and influential public servants, serving and advising seven prime ministers over a 30-year period. His many public appointments included Director of Rationing, Director-General of Post-War Reconstruction, Governor of the Reserve Bank, Chairman of the Australian Council for Aboriginal Affairs, Chairman of the Australia Council for the Arts, Chancellor of the Australian National University, Chairman of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust and Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Charismatic and energetic, Coombs had a profound influence behind the scenes in business and politics, dealing with prime ministers, officials and top business people. He worked hard to achieve a distinctive social, economic and cultural place for all Australians, particularly Aboriginal Australians 

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