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Education in Australia is primarily the responsibility of the individual states and territories, which provide most of the funding at the primary and secondary levels. In each state or territorial administration, the training and recruiting of teachers are centralized under an education department. Education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 15 in all the states and territories except Tasmania, where the upper age requirement is 16. Most children start school at age 5. About 70 percent of students attend government-funded, or public, schools, which provide free secular (nonreligious) education. There are also private schools, which are usually denominational and charge tuition fees. The majority of private schools are Catholic. Some private schools, which are sometimes called public schools as in Britain, accept day students and boarders. Most children transfer from the primary to the secondary school level at the age of 12. Secondary schools, known as high schools and junior technical schools, provide five- or six-year courses of study designed to prepare students for university entrance. In 2000–2001 Australia had nearly 10,000 primary and secondary schools, with an annual enrollment of 1.9 million primary students and 2.6 million secondary students.

Preschool education is not required by national policy and varies widely among the states and territories. In 1999 almost half of all children aged four were receiving some form of preschool education. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation conducts broadcasts for children unable to attend preschool centers. For the compulsory grades, special provisions are made for children who live in remote areas. These include Schools of the Air—where children use two-way radios, television sets, video and cassette recorders, and computers to participate in classroom instruction—and correspondence schools.

The federal government has special responsibilities for the education and training of youths in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. A national education policy has been in place and evolving since 1990 to help improve attendance, retention, and completion rates in these communities, in part through federally funded, locally based initiatives and the development of more culturally sensitive curricula.

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