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Free for educational use
Video clip synopsis – When it comes to the education system, have accounting and information replaced wonder and imagination?
Year of production - 2002
Duration - 5min 0sec
Tags - animation, digital technology, image and reality, language, media, media text, representations, satire, see all tags


The Education Machine

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About the Video Clip


The Education Machine is an episode of the series Human Contraptions (10 × 5 mins) produced in 2002.

Academy Award winning animator Bruce Petty takes a satirical look at the “contraptions” that shape our lives. Education, sex, finance, globalism, art, media, medicine, law, government and even the brain are transformed by Petty into evolving machines. Beginning with a simple concept, he takes us on an anarchic journey through history as each apparatus builds to its complex contemporary form. In the wry, ironic style that is his hallmark, Petty reveals these to be contraptions of a very human kind – imperfect, sometimes unpredictable and always subject to change. A witty, provocative and entertaining series, narrated by Andrew Denton.

A Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


In this English unit students will:

  • explore a multimodal text which represents issues and ideas about education
  • learn how multimodal texts are produced using signs, codes and conventions
  • understand how cartoons represent issues and ideas
  • examine the relationship between the media textual modes in the cartoon
  • create a text representation using multi modes of their experience of the education system

Curriculum links

National: The Statements of Learning for English- Year 9

Reading, viewing and interpreting information and argument texts and multimodal texts

  • Students read and view texts that entertain, move, parody, investigate, analyse, argue and persuade. These texts explore personal, social, cultural and political issues of significance to the students’ own lives.
  • Students understand that readers and viewers may need to develop knowledge about particular events, issues and contexts to interpret texts.


  • When students write information or argument texts or multimodal texts, they make appropriate selections of information from a few sources and attempt to synthesise and organise these in a logical way.
  • Students write imaginative texts in print and electronic mediums that contain personal, social and cultural ideas and issues related to their own lives and communities and their views of their expanding world.

Students explore and create multimodal texts/formats: In English, the modes of language are reading (including viewing), writing (including composing electronic texts), speaking and listening. Multimodal texts are those that combine, for example, print text, visual images and spoken word as in film or computer presentation media.

These are extracts only. Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.
Go to The National Curriculum Statements for English

Background Information


Academy Award winning animator and political cartoonist Bruce Petty says that ”caricature is a device by which we hope to make complex ideas (at least) accessible, (occasionally) witty and (sometimes) informative”.

His professional life has always been about finding those gaps and niches and trying to fill them in. He explains the challenge in creating the Human Contraptions series in this way: “I wanted Human Contraptions to be a cheerful reminder that as our cars, videos and toasters get smarter and cheaper, the institutions we really need are getting more expensive and unreliable, and are starting to rattle. I hope viewers recognise some of our more bizarre organisational devices and enjoy the general irreverence.

The main aim was to take an impressionistic, shorthand, comic look at over-worked, serious subjects. The series is based on general suspicions people have about the institutions we live in. These bodies are old or biased, often politically disfigured and under-funded – they are familiar targets. Representing them as machines at least suggests they are man-made, they wear out and can be fixed even as they do determine how we live.

The series offered a chance to check the workings of these “contraptions”. Institutions such as the arts carry our “trust” – we are expected to believe in them. We are persuaded that they are self-correcting and that the corrections are properly and democratically monitored.”

Many people are now beginning to suspect that this is not so.

The satirical, witty narration suggests double-meanings while sound effects and music are also important ironic components.

The Education Machine
Historical records show that an early form of this contraption was a basic, yet compulsory, device that parents used on children. Bruce Petty traces the development of education to its current double-barrelled form. Whether private or public, it seems that wonder and imagination have been lost somewhere in the system. Now, the whole apparatus has been loaded on to an all-subjects, multiple-choice mainframe, which might be able to spout information, but leaves out how to fit it all together.

Classroom Activities


1. Discuss

  • The different communication texts represented in this cartoon: for example cartoon drawings by Bruce Petty, paintings, diagrams, photographs, written text, etc.
  • What conventions evident from his newspaper cartoons does Bruce Petty use to convey his message? Consider use of line and shape, exageration, satire and caricature.
  • How does Petty represent the history of education? What are the major shifts he protrays?

2. Write and create

  • Write a brief account of your experience of the education system to date. Do you agree with Petty that education needs to be more imaginative?
  • Create an education machine of the future using at least three text types: written, sound, visual, digital etc.

Further Resources


Go to The Age for a profile of Bruce Petty

Go to ABC website to find out more about Bruce Petty

Go to The Age for a colour slide show of various Australia cartoonists presented by The Age.

Cagle, D, The Best Political Cartoons of the Year 2007, Macmillan Computer Pub, 2006.

Petty, B, The Absurd Machine: A Cartoon History of the World, Penguin, Ringwood, Harmondsworth, New York, Toronto and Auckland, 1997.

Go to Enhance TV Feature Article, Deconstruct, decode, analyse and create! for a guide to teaching media literacy and about multi modal texts.

Go to Screen Education for excellent articles and study guides focussing on multimodal texts.

Read Media new ways and meanings 3rd Ed. by Colin Stewart and Adam Kowaltzke. Jacaranda, Milton, QLD, 2008. Go to a sample of chapters online at Jacaranda Books