Thatcher the watcher is here to learn
Mrs Margaret Thatcher, one of the most unpopular people in British politics—according to a recent public opinion poll—arrived in Australia yesterday.
And with a queenly charm she denied being a controversial figure.
She said: “I suppose the reason people were so antagonistic towards me was because I stood firm and put through changes in the education system which I was elected to put through.
“Actually I have done more for primary schools in Britain than any minister in history, by eliminating old buildings and ensuring better facilities.”
The opinion poll, conducted six months ago, showed that Mrs Thatcher, Secretary of State for Education and Science, was the least favored member in the Heath Government and that three-quarters of the public was against her.
Elected to office in 1970, Mrs Thatcher was bitterly criticised for abolishing free milk in primary schools and nicknamed “Thatcher Thatcher, milk snatcher.”
She said in Sydney yesterday: “We had to find the economy somewhere to finance changes in the primary schools, and so we decided to eliminate free milk.
“Parents cannot supply buildings, but surely they can supply a third of a pint of milk for five days a week for about 40 weeks a year for their children?”
She is in Australia to visit schools in Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra and to see the Anglo-Australian telescope at Siding Springs, NSW, the rocket launching site at Woomera and divisions of the CSIRO.
She said: “I haven't come critically. I have come to learn how you cope with problems facing education throughout the world.
“One of our problems—and one absorbing your goodselves—is what age to start sending children to preschools.
“Another problem is whether to cater to employment demand or to the demand for higher degrees; how many people to put in the universities; how large they should be built.
Mrs Thatcher said the perennial problem of education was whether one should be trained for a job in the world, or whether one should concentrate on developing one's own talents.