Saturday, January 1, 2011

Back to school, then and now

It's 1.1.11 today, the first day of a new decade in the 21st century. Happy New Year!

Tomorrow is the final day of school holidays for most kids in this country and come Monday, 3rd January, a new school year begins (some states start school a day earlier). Caitlin will be in Year 3.

The past weeks of holidays have whizzed by so quickly. Tomorrow will probably be spent ensuring everything for school is ready - uniform, books and bag, socks and shoes, and water bottle. I foresee it will be hard for all of us to wake up at 6.00am on Monday. And I dread either me or E having to send/fetch her to/from school on the first week as traffic around school will be crazy with all the anxious parents of Year 1 children hanging around to ensure their kids settle in and be on 'standby' for those who feel insecure or cry. I'm glad C was happy, eager, felt secure and didn't cry on her first day in Year 1. Some of her clasmates cried while one required her parent to accompany her all the way to the classroom for the entire first term (3 months).

While wrapping her school books, I took a quick walk down memory lane back to my school days. Back then, my books were wrapped in brown paper. Plastic only came into the book-wrapping 'practice' later during secondary school. There weren't any pre-made plastic book covers/jackets like now. We had to cut the brown paper or plastic sheet according to size and fold them around the covers of the books to wrap them.

As for school bags, we either had rattan or plastic woven baskets, cloth, PVC or canvas sling bags; no fancy ergonomic, spine-supporting backpacks or roller-bags. The 'best' or most 'high tech' school bags back then would have been the suitcase type, one made out of hard cardboard with two metal fasteners at the side that flip open to unlock the suitcase. As 'fancy' as we perceived them to be, they were difficult to carry as the plastic handle would cut into your fingers with the weight of the books inside. Many kids' parents had improvised to make it more comfortable by wrapping and tying a wad of sponge around the handle! I don't see kids carrying such bags these days. 

I carried my food container (or 'tupperware' as it was referred as back then) and water bottle in a small cloth bag my grandma sewed using some leftover cloth she had; no fancy lunch box or bag. The food container and water bottle were just plain looking plastic ones. No opportunity or freedom of choice as to what I could use to bring my food and drink in.

Kids now have nice water bottles (that must be made of non-poly bisphenol A plastic) with fancy patterns or Disney character prints, and can be easily opened with built-in straws and flip tops. Those days, if I weren't careful in opening or closing my tumbler, I'd have less water to drink or none at all, and my books or bag would be soaked.

My grandma tailor-made my school uniforms. She went to the cloth shop downtown to buy the right coloured materials for the blouse and pinafore. It was only later that an enterprising person started a school uniform business in my hometown where we could buy ready-made ones from the one-shoplot business. Just yesterday, I drove pass a street in my hometown and came across this spanking new building at the corner of the street with the school uniform business's name in large letters across the facade. My mum said their school uniform business did so well over the years that they've even ventured into the hotel business.

Nowadays, school uniforms can be bought almost everywhere from hypermarts, and departmental stores to uniform 'specialty' shops that sell all things related to school needs. Unfortunately, C's school uniform can only be bought from her school as it's not the generic type, and unlike my (late) grandma, I can't even hem a skirt neatly let alone tailor uniforms.

What else has changed? School shoes. Those white canvas ones had to be scrubbed every weekend, sun dried and later 'painted' with liquid chalk from a plastic bottle that came with a plastic-handled sponge applicator. The shoes had laces and they had to removed, washed, chalked and re-strung. Only when I was in secondary school that velcro straps came along. Now most kids wear shoes with velcros and the liquid chalk is in a plastic squeeze bottle with a built-in sponge-tip applicator. In some schools like private ones that are not that stringent with uniform specifications, it's not uncommon to see kids wearing non-standard Bata-branded canvas shoes. You're more likely to spot the likes of a puma silhoutte, three stripes or a swoosh on their shoes.

Aah, those good old days. How things have changed, for better or worse, I can't tell.

1 comment:

Eugene said...

You forgot the commute to school. In the past it was the school van/bus or in later years bicycling to school. Nowadays, Mum & Dad take on the role of being drivers.

Not to mention the amount of pocket money we got. I remember back when I started Standard 1, my daily pocket money was 20 sen. Nowadays, you would not be able to buy anything with 20 sen.