19th century school readers - Irish National Readers
The principle of using readers for education, to establish uniform standards in reading and writing was well established in nineteenth century Australia. From 1848, the most commonly used readers in Australia were the Irish National Readers. They were designed to provide a non-denominational religious education, with emphasis on literary and moral values, and included Old Testament history and political economy.
They were widely used in Australia, as their most significant advantage was their cheapness and ready availability. However they were never fully accepted, owing to disputes between Protestants and Catholics over their religious content. In Victoria there was concern about the Irish readers, particularly after the passing of the 1872 Education Act and its provision for free, compulsory and secular education. The Education Act also meant that the Victorian Education Department became responsible for prescribing the reading curriculum in government schools, therefore the Irish readers were replaced in 1877.
Two samples of the Irish National Readers demonstrates the beginnings of a shift in emphasis on Australian content in school readers during the second half of the 19th century. This trend was subsequently built upon by many educational publishers in the early 20th century.
Published in 1869, the Fourth Reading Book for the Use of Schools was published in Dublin. The reader covered historical events, geography, scripture, literary readings and poetry, all from a distinctly English point of view. In contrast, by 1876, the Fourth Reading Book for the use of Schools in Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand was released. This new version, revised and adapted to better suit the reading needs of Colonial youth, contained a selection of new topics written by “gentlemen of Colonial experience”. In addition to much of the same content as the 1869 version, the new edition included topics on Australian and New Zealand exploration, discovery, and wildlife.