March 18, 2014
First Day At School – Tablets And A Beating
A couple of days ago I got into conversation with someone much younger than I am about our different experiences of our earliest days at school. The subject arose because the lady in question’s daughter “needed” an iPad for school. Some schools here have actually stipulated that pupils have to have specific tablets for their work. Affordability is a big problem for many parents, and there have been confrontations between parent bodies and school authorities.
All this made me think about my first day at Primary School, which was then known as Infants School, and covered the ages five to seven. I described what it was like back then in the 1950s. The thought of such a thing as an iPad or indeed any kind of computer being used in schools was only in the outer limits of science fantasy. But I did joke that I had a tablet of sorts to write on, but perhaps more in the Biblical sense of the word than the modern version. My very first scribbled words at school were in fact done on slate surrounded by a wooden frame. The uncanny resemblance in size and shape between the old and new “tablets” made me chuckle as I recalled that day. I even joked that it had a “touch screen” – when you had finished with whatever was on your slate or run out of space, all you had to do was rub it out with your finger!
Paper was a precious commodity. Books were also in short supply. On the plus side, every child, regardless of their parents’ financial status, got a bottle of milk and a cod liver oil tablet (tablets again!) in the morning, and a free school meal at lunchtime. Universal provision of school milk continued until the 1970s when it was abolished by the then Education Minister Margaret Thatcher. Free school meals are still available today, but are means tested.
Nevertheless, looking back to that day, I also recalled how different a world it was in a 1950s classroom. My sister was also in the class as, being boy and girl twins, we had started school on the same day. As the teacher moved around the class, watching the children making their marks on the slates (“writing” would perhaps be too generous a description), she noticed that my sister was using her left hand. It seems that the standard educational protocol for dealing with left-handed kids in those days was to stop it in its tracks. The teacher tried to make her use her right hand but she either couldn’t or wouldn’t and the whole thing escalated with my five-year-old sister getting a good telling off, followed by a couple of hard slaps on the legs. I reacted and went to her aid, which predictably meant I ended up with a slap too. This was not the greatest introduction to school life, but things did get better and that first school served me well enough in the end.
Yes, it was a very different world back then and these memories illustrate how much things have developed since. I don’t miss my slate and I certainly don’t miss those cod liver oil tablets.
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