Colin R. Badger was one the most significant figures in Australian adult education during the second half of the twentieth century. Born in far outback South Australia in 1906, the eighth of eleven children, he did not initially complete high school but went on to study at the University of Adelaide, from which he received his bachelor’s degree (with first class honors) and his master’s degree. During these years he was also preparing for the ministry in the Baptist Church, but after deciding not to pursue that vocation, he began his lifelong involvement with adult education.
In 1936, after achieving success as the readers’ counselor, a Carnegie Foundation funded initiative, in the state of Western Australia, Badger was appointed as the director of adult education at the University of Western Australia where he substantially extended and diversified the adult education program. In 1939, he became the director of extension in the University of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. During his time as director of extension, he was also fully involved in working with the Australian Army Education Service.
At the end of World War II, he played a major role in drafting the legislation that created the Council of Adult Education (CAE) for the state of Victoria. In 1947 he was appointed as the first director of CAE and thus began his life’s great work. He founded the journal Adult Education in 1956. In 1960, he was one of Australia’s two representatives at the UNESCO Second World Congress on Adult Education held in Montreal. Though he retired as Victorian director of adult education in in 1971, until his death in 1993, at age 86, Badger retained his passion for adult education and his wholehearted participation in public debate.
Badger’s charismatic presence and "missionary zeal" attracted important support for adult education from across the governmental, university, and arts sectors. His initiatives in adult education over the years always involved one or more of four themes: the importance of both extension and recreational education, the strong encouragement of the visual and performing arts, the building of a strong adult learner support base both locally and statewide, and the need for sound adult education coordination and funding on a national basis.
Drawing on lessons from his own experience, he fostered a love of learning in others, particularly those who had missed the chance to learn in their early years. He saw himself engaged not in a mere job but a crusade. His example is an inspiring lesson on the capacity of an individual to author historical change, and his life is a reminder that, in a world of anonymous policymaking and impersonal bureaucracies, great organizations sometimes began with a personality and a soul.
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