Thanks to Freshly Pressed and Rachel Shae’s post about school in Korea, I now have a topic for discussion in Project 52 today.
I find it nothing short of hilarious that the school conditions in South Korea could be so shocking, especially since that’s exactly how I grew up in Jamaica. So I’d like to throw this one to the winds as my own two cents. Fellow yaadies, have a laugh.
11. An Overview
Our schooling system closely follows the British, so we have primary school (grades 1 through 6), high school (grades 6 through 12/13 or forms 1 through 5/6) and then tertiary education which can be either college or university. Before primary school you’ve got kindergarten/prep school. Oh, and prep schools are a fancy way of saying ‘private primary schools’.
Students take public transportation. As early as infant school (somewhere between kindergarten and grade one), kids are going home by themselves. Some kids get picked up by parents or a hired driver, most kids take a bus or taxi home. School buses? Nah, those are for under-age drinking and other illicit activities (like statutory rape).
Apparently kids in the States really do get stuff like chicken fillet, hamburgers and pizza for lunch. (Split second research findings courtesy of the US grad & undergrad students sitting right next to me). At my primary school – and I think this is true for most if not all primary schools in Jamaica – we got rice and peas and chicken. Standard fare whether you’re dining at home, a restaurant or a homeless shelter (the only difference is the price).
We don’t study any foreign languages in primary school. I know that prep schools (i.e. private schools) will offer Spanish as a foreign language, but in primary schools the teachers had their hands full trying to teach native English speakers how to speak English. Extra classes were practically mandatory once you got to Grade Six in order for you to get into a good high school. Co-curricular activities were also limited to things like dance, drama and speech, with primary school groups performing in the annual Jamaica Cultural Development Commission Festival Competition. This was a Big Deal. When you were in JCDC, you got out of class, you got out of exams and you got trips to Kingston. It was awesome.
Corporal punishment wasn’t just spanking or slapping. I’m talking full on whacks with inch thick leather straps when we misbehaved, back-talked or when we were just plain stupid. Didn’t recite your times-tables with the rest of the class? Here’s three licks with the belt. As a form of discipline, I have to say that belt was single-handedly responsible for making sure we all toed the line. There are many arguments against beating kids, but I find most of them stupid. Kids don’t listen to reason or logic, or bribery tactics or threats. If you tell Timmy not to stick his hand in the fire and he goes ahead and burns his fingers, he’ll never do it again. Know why? It hurt. If you tell Timmy not to play in class and Timmy starts a game of tag, Timmy won’t do it again. Know why? Because he won’t be able to sit down for a week, that’s why.
06. School Days
Primary school used to start at 8:30 and end at 3:30. This was not a big deal. We would get a break in the morning and then an hour of lunch. There was a lot of stuff to learn, and the teachers spent most of this time drilling important lessons into our heads that we subsequently forgot the next summer. (In fact, most primary school kids (in Grade 5 or 6) know way more about things like Geography and General Knowledge than their high school counter parts. This is because the Grade Six Achievement Test (a placement exam for high school) is focused on cramming as much information as possible into your pre-teen’s head.)
Of course we had to wear uniforms. I don’t see the big deal about sending kids to school in clothes they picked out themselves, or parents having to buy new clothes every so often because their kid feels inferior to someone whose parents can actually afford them. We wore uniforms straight through high school into Community College. No make-up, no jewellery, no outlandish hairstyles, no colour in the hair. Of course we found ways to cheat the system; lots of girls ended up being sent home with skirts an inch above their knees, coloured contacts and nail polish (yes, even the natural one).
04. Teachers and students stayed in the same class.
The way classes were structured meant that one teacher had control over one class. Grades were streamed (according to your academic performance from the previous year), with a teacher in charge of each stream. The students would turnover every year, but the teacher stayed the same. That one teacher was responsible for teaching us Language, Science, Math, Social Studies and the elusive art of discipline. Some teachers failed spectacularly, but it’s no wonder why primary school teachers are a rare species these days.
03. Janitors, what janitors?
Back in my day, we called ’em ancillary staff workers. It wasn’t their job to keep classrooms clean, it was ours. It was always our mess, and we could and did get very messy. What else do you come to school for if not to learn how to keep your house clean?
02. Vacations and holidays
Midterms were the best things ever in primary school, but by high school the term had taken on sinister meaning. Midterms were holidays in the (you guessed it) middle of the term. By high school, the teachers started pairing these blessed events with hideous exams. We got Christmas and New Year’s in December/January, and the summer holiday was generally two months. Month-long summer classes were optional, but most kids ended up going anyway because their parents didn’t have anything better to do with them.
01. Graduation Ball
At the end of your five years of high school you were rewarded with a long and generally boring valedictory service as well as a long but remarkably less boring Ball. Here we use Ball in the loosest definition of the term, to mean ‘dancehall rave’. Guys and gals would dress up and fork over a couple thousand dollars to eat, drink and dagger well into the morning, all chaperoned by responsible teachers. Of course.
A lot of public high schools were single-sex. In fact, most state-owned schools (including primary schools) started out as a single-sex and quite a few of them continued that way. This led to the formation of brother/sister schools, and needless to say quite a bit of Flowers in the Attic action.
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