Orphanage Education

Year: 1994

Author: Maunders, David

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In her recent book on orphanages in the progressive era in Baltimore, Dr Nurith Zmora suggests than on occasions greater opportunities were provided for those in institutional care than for those with intact families. What was the experience of those who experienced institutional care in Victoria, Australia? This paper is based on interviews with over 90 Victorians who spent all or part of their childhood in institutional care between 1914 and 1980. Some comparisons are made with interviews conducted in Canada and the USA.

The research shows a very broad range of experience. In the 1920's and 1930's, little more than basic elementary education was offered. Some students experienced support from teachers and some discrimination from other students. In some cases elementary school was followed by a period of work experience in the orphanage, usually in farming or gardening (boys) or child care (girls). Increasingly after the Second World War, capable children were offered secondary education. Some, however, were not able to take advantage of educational opportunities due to emotional stresses related to their situation. The paper outlines the career development of respondents and considers possible factors contributing to educational success: the experience and background of the child outside and prior to entering the institution, support within the institution, attitude of staff, etc.

The paper reflects on the unclear distinction between care and education and considers subjects' views on how this could best be offered in future. Tentative conclusions are that institutional care need not impede educational opportunity, though there seem to be greater barriers encountered by those who entered care very young or had no siblings or visitors from outside.