"Ouma, what was school like in your day?"
How times have changed.
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A short answer would be, “Very, very different.”  But if they want a more detailed answer I would start with the fact that I travelled to school on a tram. At some point in my schooling the tram was replaced by a bus. 

A claim to fame could be that I travelled on the bus with Gary Player who is just a few months older than I am.  He went to King Edward School and I attended the convent up the road in Yeoville. Of course at that time I didn’t know that he would one day be famous; I simply saw him as a well-behaved schoolboy, hair always neatly slicked back. I found the naughty boys much more fun.

In those days children were permitted to “skip” classes if they were a bit bright. So I only spent one term in the first class and was then moved up to the second class and after a term there I was put up to Standard One (Grade Three). There are pros and cons to a system like that but I won’t deal with those now.

In the first year we were not allowed paper or pens or pencils. We used “slates”. The hard slate material was set in a wooden frame and we wrote on it with a “slate pencil”, which was a stick of slate with a sharpened point.  Only the teacher was allowed to write with chalk on our slates when she marked our work. And of course she also used chalk on the blackboard.

My teachers were nuns of the Holy Family order. That is a Roman Catholic order based in Bordeaux, France, but most of the nuns were Irish. I adored them and when I hear an Irish accent today I feel all warm and fuzzy.

Stationery formed milestones in my school life. In the second class we had books called scribblers in which we wrote with pencils and the nuns marked with red pens. Only in the third year did we graduate to using exercise books and dipping pens – no, not quills!

Our wooden desks had hinged flaps that covered the space where we stored our text-books and lunch. At the top a little brass flap covered the ink well. We had to polish this brass flap with Brasso. The ink was a strange affair. It was made from a blue powder kept locked away in the classroom cupboard. The nuns were very economical when mixing the ink and I think they really overdid the water as the ink was so pale we could hardly read what we wrote with it.

Only many years later did we graduate to fountain pens. The ink in my pen was to be the cause of one of the few occasions during my time at school that I got into serious trouble. The ink we were required to use was Stephen’s blue-black. My father was an auditor and he always used ink called Waterman’s south-sea blue which was a rather greenish blue. One afternoon when I was doing my homework my pen ran dry and I decided to fill my fountain pen with my father’s ink.

I thought my homework looked absolutely gorgeous with this unusual colour but when I got to school the next day I could never have imagined the furore it provoked. Sister Patricia was almost apoplectic about the colour that she kept referring to as green. I actually dared to correct her and tell her that it was not green, but south sea BLUE.

I was then sent to the Mother Superior who was equally shocked that a normally well-behaved girl had dared to do such an atrocious thing as to do her homework in GREEN ink. By that time I knew better than to tell her it was south sea BLUE.

I think ball point pens probably came into common use shortly before the end of my schooldays in 1952 but we were never allowed to use them.  They were frowned upon and it was predicted that they would be the ruination of good handwriting. 

This must all seem very strange to young people today with their tablets and calculators. If I were to ask my grandchildren whether they were taught cursive writing, or mental arithmetic, or tracing maps, I might get a few blank stares. I know I once asked one whether he knew how to parse a sentence and he looked very puzzled.

Those things may all seem rather unimportant today. Perhaps telling the younger generation about it will make them appreciate the wonderful technology available to them. I have often wondered why it took so long for us to get to the stage we are at now. What slowed the human race down? A number of wars? I don’t know the answer to that but if 80 years could lift us from slates to monitors, how much further will the next 80 years take us? And it’s OUR grandchildren that will be doing it.

How has school changed since you were in school? Send us your comment to chatback@parent24.com.

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