Primary School in the 50s, more pain than pleasure.

Nov 06, 2022
Source: Getty

Can you remember the smell of your primary school in the 50s? Kids sweat, chalk, dust, stale sandwiches, and ink. I can still smell it as I remember those days in a Catholic primary school which was ruled over by sour breathed nuns in long black robes. They carried a cane that would smart across our legs if we were unlucky enough to be chosen to be the victim of the day. 

In vivid contrast, I recently visited my granddaughter’s primary school, and the bright and cheerful classroom with it’s up-to-date equipment and bright young teacher was so different. The learning environment was so creative and the atmosphere so alive that I could see the children really enjoyed their learning experience.

We had an old building with polished wooden floors in the corridor had various classrooms leading off the side. Each room had a blackboard, blackboard duster, and chalk all neatly lined up for the lesson of the day. We sat at wooden desks which had hard wooden seats attached. They had a sloping desk top which lifted to put your books in. We had wooden pencil boxes with sliding lids. The desk had an inkwell cut out and ceramic ink wells which were filled with ink by the chosen child of the day. That child also got to bang the blackboard dusters together to clean them. We also had slate boards surrounded by wooden frames and used these with chalk to practice our letters. Pencils were used in our lined books which had AMDG written in the corner of each page. This was for God apparently.  

Being a catholic school, there was a lot of getting up and down to pray. But if God was hanging around, it was difficult to feel him with the nuns always ready to whack us with that horrible cane. I soon learned to dodge and weave to avoid it, pulling the legs of my interlock bloomers down to meet my long socks so there was less flesh to belt. For some reason, I annoyed the nuns and so I was often chosen to be the recipient of that cane. Big red welts on my legs, and my parents told me I must have deserved it.

I don’t remember much about the lessons, but I obviously learned to read, write and count. Morning recess and lunch breaks were like being let out of prison. We ran out into the yard which was a big paddock with long grass bordered by a stream and willow trees. We played games and forgot about the hot, stuffy prison-like classrooms which were freezing in winter and stifling hot in summer. Sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper were demolished and if we were lucky, maybe some fruit or cake. We ran and played and made huts in the long grass. Sometimes hopscotch or elastics or chasing – the girls’ toilet block being a safe refuge from the boys.

Education has changed so much, and although some of the modern ideologies are questionable, it seems that children are nurtured and encouraged to learn. Different learning needs and styles are embraced and kids for the most part seem to enjoy their primary school years.

What are your memories of those long-ago days?

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