Julia is about to close a big chapter of her life, her last year of school is almost over. As we are getting closer to the end, I find myself thinking about these years and my journey through the Australian school system. A journey not always easy and at times foreign and unfamiliar but, ultimately, a journey that left me feeling very positive about my daughter’s education.
My journey started at playgroup, when Julia was barely one year old and the conversation between mothers went to what school to choose and…waiting lists! It was one of those “fish out of water” moments that often happens in the life of us migrants and I sat there feeling confused and slightly inadequate.
This is the first big difference between the Italian and the Australian school system. Particularly at a secondary level, parents often choose to send their children to a private school. Paying to get an education sounded weird enough to me, but paying to be on a waiting list from the age of one was just beyond belief! I decided that day that I was never sending my daughter to a private school and started my “public school” campaign with Nigel who soon turned the corner and became the first in his family to send his children to a public high school!
Julia’s primary school was local and a bit alternative, it looked like fun and at the age of five, fun seemed pretty important.
I was used to a very different environment and approach. Classrooms, desks with set places, teachers behind a desk, books and daily homework. Spensley Street Primary school had no classrooms but “areas”, desks were used only for special projects, kids usually sat on the floor, no text books and absolutely no homework. Of course I had my moments of discouragement, asking myself if in this environment my daughter was ever going to learn to read, let alone doing anything else vaguely academic. She certainly loved going to school, where she dressed up, talked about her favourite teddy bear in front of a group of attentive pupils and painted fabulous pictures with her fingers. When I asked the teacher when she was going to start reading, she was now in grade 2, the teacher told me not to worry, she was taking all the right steps in that direction and she would get there in her own time. I must admit I wasn’t reassured, seen that some of her friends where going through the first Harry Potter book while Julia had absolutely no interest in putting more then three words together!
Needless to say I was wrong and, yes, the teacher was right. She took her time but Julia did learn to read and developed a passion for books and learning in general.
The way of learning is certainly very different to what I was used to. In primary school there are no specific subjects, no history or geography and even maths seemed to be taught in a very “practical” way. I never heard my girls reciting the times tables like I used to do, but somehow they appear to have learned them. There isn’t much memorising involved in the australian system, the learning is done in a more “organic” way, kids are getting there through their own path. It does sound like a lovely way to learn and still I spent years worrying about my girls path to learning. Could they actually become responsible adults without having learned the structure of the Greek city-states???
As we are approaching the end of her school years I am very pleased with what Spensley St Primary school taught Julia. The move to high school went smoothly and she took with her the skills she learned to help her settle in a more structured environment. High school has been another journey, but I will have to write about that some other time!