What was school like in the olden days? – A question asked asked by Junior M

18 Oct

Hello Junior M,

Starting school in 1960

I don’t know how olden this seems to you but I first started school in 1960 so that’s over 50 years ago. My Kindergarten (Prep) class had around 35 children in it.

When we arrived at school, the teacher checked to see if we had a handkerchief and had clean hands. We were expected to wear our uniforms with a tie if a boy. Girls wore school dresses. They were not allowed to wear long pants even in winter but they could wear stockings to keep their legs warm.

In class, we had pencils to use in our books. Only older children were able to use ink pens. Each recess break, all children in the school were given a free bottle of milk to drink. That might sound good but the bottles weren’t kept in fridges so would be sour if the day was hot. We were still expected to drink them.

Our school bags were Globite suitcases. We weren’t allowed soft bags because our books might be damaged. We would keep our books, pencils, maybe a school jumper and our lunches in them. If we had a note from our parents, we were allowed to walk home to have lunch then return.

Even in Kindergarten, a teacher might hit a child’s hand with a ruler if they were doing something wrong or were using the wrong hand to write. Older children could be caned with a long thin bamboo cane.

I use to watch my brother in the primary school section of the school. Each morning the boys would line up in their classes and the girls in theirs. Boys and girls were kept in separate classes. At the end of assemblies, a drummer boy would beat the drum as the children were suppose to march back to class (they really weren’t very good at marching). Boys were in the top classes and girls were in the lower classes. One of the worst punishments for a boy was to be sent to spend some time in a girls’ class.

When I started in the primary section of the school in 1963, the primary section had changed. Girls and boys were placed in the same classrooms. My brother was in Year 6 and wasn’t happy when girls were placed in his class. I was made ink well monitor for my Year 3 class. It was my job each day to make sure each inkwell in the desks had ink for our pens. We would dip in the points of our pens, wipe off the excess ink and start writing. Later that year I lost that job because for the first time children were able to use ballpoint pens.

Starting out as a teacher

In the 1970s, I started life as a primary school teacher. It wasn’t until 1981 I was placed in a full time school job. I was sent out to western NSW as a Teacher in Charge of an isolated school. My school was 100km from the nearest town and 20 km from the house next door where I lived. (The picture shows that school and comes from a video tape recording I made back then.)

Each day I would drive along the flat road to school. I would have to watch out for red kangaroos, emus or sheep on the roads. Sometimes I might stop to pull a sheep out of mud if it was stuck in a dam. On arriving at school, I sometimes had to chase emus out of the school playground.

We were pretty lucky in the classroom. We had an air conditioner, fridge and water cooler. We also had a colour TV but could only pick up the ABC TV if the weather was just right. There were no DVDs or CDs back then but we did have a videotape machine that could play large one hour tapes we could borrow. The tapes were called UMatic and aren’t like the tapes your parents would remember.

Even the phone was different. I had to pick it up and listen to hear if anyone was already on the line. If no one else was using the phone I would replace the handset, wind a handle, speak to an operator in town and ask to be connected to the number I wanted.

We were one of the first primary schools in NSW to have a computer although we had to share it with five other schools so we only had it for about 6 or 7 weeks in a year. I immediately set about writing some programmes for the old Apple II computer as there wasn’t much software that came with it. Luckily I had used computers in university since 1975 so I knew about them.

How isolated were we? In the two years I was in that school, only one bus ever passed by. We only usually had about one truck pass us per term and one car per week. We weren’t on a main road to anywhere.

Where did the children come from? They were from surrounding sheep and cattle stations. The numbers varied depending on work for their parents but ranged from 12 to 20, including one high school girl doing correspondence at one stage. All the children were in the one room and the school had only one teacher.

Did I ever use a cane on a child? In those early days, a teacher could smack a naughty child or hit them with a cane or ruler. If we did use the cane, we had to write an entry in the discipline book and show how many hits we made and why they were given. I NEVER CANED A CHILD or hit them with rulers. Very early on I decided it was wrong to hit children. Now, of course, hitting with canes is illegal.

Did we play sport against other schools? We worked with five other small one and two teacher schools. We would take turns to host the others schools on sports days. One school was on the far side of our six school area. For they to visit us or we them, it was a 200km journey one way on mostly dirt roads so a sports day there could mean about 400km in a car.

Did we go on excursions? Each year our six schools would go on the one excursion. Every child from Kindergarten to Year 6 would go with their teachers and some parents for a one week trip. In 1981 we travelled all the way to Newcastle in NSW so the children could experience the seaside. The journey was about 700km one way so by the time we were back we had travelled around 1500km. Our 1982 trip was to Bathurst to learn about gold mining and see the Queen as she came to town.

In 1982 I bought my own personal home video camera. It was large, had a heavy recorder you wore with a shoulder strap on your shoulder and a cable attached to the camera. In those days cameras were so rare I would be asked what television station I was from.

On the 1982 school excursion I mentioned, we were on the streets waiting to see the Queen pass. A policeman saw me with the camera and thought I was from the local TV station so he let me through the barriers. I filmed the Queen passing and could have reached out to touch her I was so close. (You can see a picture from that 1982 video.) That would never happen these days.

After leaving this school, I was sent to a school in Sydney. Video tape recorders had arrived at schools and I introduced computers to my new school. In 1988 I moved to another Sydney school. During my time there I introduced computers, digital video cameras, digital photo cameras, email, a computer network, computer animation and the internet.

By my final school, it would look much like your own. I have seen so much change in schools.

What do you all think school will be like in 50 years?


Posted by on October 18, 2011 in 5. General posts for classes


24 responses to “What was school like in the olden days? – A question asked asked by Junior M

  1. Helen

    October 18, 2011 at 23:22

    I remember asking you about buying a computer for my daughter Kathryn and son David. I was so concerned as money was very very tight (my parents were buying the computer because we just had no money for that luxury). My main question to you was ‘I am not sure when to buy because they keep bringing out better versions”, your reply was ‘you will just have to bite the bullet and get one because ‘they’ are going to always have an improvement coming out right after you buy your computer. I remember the one we got, David insisted he needed 8 gig of memory and the computer salesman in Condell Park computer shop said ‘no one needs or uses that amount of memory … ha my camera has more than that these days. I also think he thought ‘what is with this kid who is only 9 years of age know’ well David is a very successful web designer today. And that first computer (we have had at least 5 in this house since, I don’t know how many David has had) was the start of a wonderful eye opening journey. I myself at 59 years of age have met some really wonderful people from around the world. Some are very close friends now from other states in Australia. I have been able to foster my interest in the environment and now many aspects of new age topics and all this is because of the encouragement you gave David at Condell Park Primary School. He was the real push that nagged my poor Mum till she gave in and bought that 8 gig computer for $4,500.00 that is a lot of money now let alone back in 1991. So thank you Ross, you did good. 🙂 Best Regards, Helen Sirr

    • Ross Mannell

      October 19, 2011 at 07:35

      Thank you for the comment.

      This one came as a surprise. The blogs I operate are set with teachers and schools in mind but few former students of schools I’ve been in or their parents have found a blog let alone thought to comment. I really appreciate this as it is a reminder that I have made a difference in some lives, hopefully positive. The post was in answer to one school I have on line contact with. The children made an audio post to their class blog where they asked what school was like in the “olden” days. For children of that age, that can mean as little as 10 years back.

      I do remember the conversation as it was one repeated to a few people at the time (and still applies) worried about being up to date. Computers over the years since CPPS have certainly changed in ability and power. Prices have come down for lower powered machines but can still be very expensive when we need more power. Your poor mum would probably have been very proud had she known then what her generosity would lead to. I’m pleased his choice back then opened up a career. A few students have contacted me over time to say I influenced their journey into IT or teaching. That’s one of the rewards of teaching.

      These days, many of my Facebook friends, such as Kathryn, are former students who cared enough to friend. It’s great to see how they have gone through life, many now parents themselves

      Ross Mannell

      As you can see, I’m still active in computing although retired from full time teaching.

  2. Junior M

    October 20, 2011 at 13:55

    Hi Ross

    Thank you for the blog post you sent us. I think it will really help our learning this term.

    We think in 50 years time school will:
    have more technology
    there might be glass desks
    there might be cool machines, like being able to hand things in through a computer or
    There might be a whiteboard doesn’t need to load
    there could be a computer that knows what you’re thinking, so you don’t need to type anything.

    • Ross Mannell

      October 21, 2011 at 20:22

      Hello Junior M,

      Your ideas of what the future may hold are very interesting. Some favourite old books I have are science books printed in 1919. There are a few volumes entitled “Harmsworth’s Popular Science”. They’re getting close to 100 years old. In them there are some pages predicting the future world. While they had somethings correct, mostly their ideas were wrong. We can never know what new amazing things will come along that are yet to be invented but in your ideas, I see a good chance they will come true.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Ross Mannell (teacher)
      NSW, Australia

  3. Ross Mannell

    October 21, 2011 at 20:17

    Ah, yes, I know a little sister has been at work here. 🙂 It’s wonderful to receive a comment from someone so young.

    Ross Mannell (teacher)
    NSW, Australia

    • chelsea

      June 12, 2013 at 01:53

      thats nice

      • Ross Mannell

        June 12, 2013 at 06:28

        Thank you for leaving a comment, Chelsea. 🙂

  4. Kate Parry

    November 17, 2011 at 19:29

    Happy Birthday Mr Mannell!
    I just found your blog from a link on Mrs Yollis’ page …. she is such an inspiration in the way she has been utilising the blogging platform in her classroom, just as you were for me when it came to using computers in the classroom at CPPS. I can see from your header that the sea change agreed with you and it seems that you are now enjoying your retirement. I am pleased that you are still dabbling with computers and am looking forward to reading more of your blog posts. I can remember you sharing the story of your Great Uncle Ernie and Dad thanks for telling it again. I can also remember you telling me stories of the milkman delivering the milk with his horse and cart! Perhaps you can tell Junior M. about drinking milk at recess when you were at school – I think you had a few funny tales!.
    Kate Parry (TL)

    • Ross Mannell

      November 21, 2011 at 22:12

      Hello Kate,

      Long time no hear from. 🙂

      Much has happened over the years. I no longer am a permanent teacher due to early retirement but I have re-registered as a teacher in the state so may be able to end up as a casual. I still use computers very actively and have found blogging and Twitter have opened up many new contacts.

      What I have been doing in schools and for community groups is video and photographic work. I have just finished a two DVDs set for a local school’s play and have run off 150 disks so far. This can keep me very busy as I use 3 video cameras and an audio recorder to do the work. The latest set would have taken about 100 hour work. It also kept me off line for a few days due to what ended up being a software glitch in the DVD creation (now fixed). My next booking is on Thursday for a different school then on Friday 16th December for a third school as the school is having its last day before combining with another school in town.

      As far as Mrs Yollis and her class are concerned, her spreading the word on the advantages of blogging has become legend as has the work of others. These days I have become know for my commenting on children’s blogs around the world.

      Over a number of comments, I have sent messages about what life was like when I was a student and first starting out teaching in ‘The Outback’. The children were interested in what school was like in the ‘olden days’. 🙂

      Ross 🙂

      • Anonymous

        November 25, 2020 at 04:58

        hello guys I’m
        trying to find some questions to ask how school was like back in the old days

      • Ross Mannell

        November 25, 2020 at 12:53

        How can I help? I went to school in Australia from 1960 to 1972 then university. I was a teacher from 1977 to 2000.

  5. Anonymous

    February 13, 2014 at 03:33

    Tommy Johnson was in the olden days at school in Scotland he is getting old owwww big 62 this year 2014

    • Ross Mannell

      November 16, 2014 at 14:24

      Tommy is only a little older than I am. I am 60. 🙂

  6. Grace murray

    October 15, 2014 at 20:10

    Why did you. And did the cane hert .and my name is Grace and this is what class I’m In 1c and this is my year 1.

    • Ross Mannell

      November 16, 2014 at 14:32

      Hello Grace,

      I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment sooner. I sometimes get very busy with work I do to help schools and groups in my town and don’t always notice a new comment on one of my blogs.

      As a boy, I was caned once for doing something silly. It did hurt my hand but I knew what I had done was wrong. I nearly knocked over a basketball hoop. It might have fallen and hurt others.

      As a teacher, I never hit a child with a cane or ruler. As a new teacher, I decided I didn’t need to hit hit children even though teachers could back then. I wanted them to like school not be afraid of being hit.


  7. Grace murray

    October 15, 2014 at 20:15

    Thacke you so much and I am 7 years old

  8. Madison

    January 19, 2015 at 04:53

    Wow I never know this
    Thanks I am 7

    • Ross Mannell

      January 20, 2015 at 05:38

      Hello Madison,

      Thank you for the comment. Many things in schools have changed since I was your age but the main goal of schools has stayed. Schools help us learn and grow our knowledge. 🙂

  9. Jess Norman

    June 9, 2015 at 07:56


  10. Anonymous

    September 4, 2015 at 04:23

    How many time did you get hurt

    • Ross Mannell

      September 4, 2015 at 13:23

      Hi. If you meant how many times I was hit with a cane, it was once when I had done something silly. 🙂

  11. samantha

    February 23, 2016 at 03:50

    love it year


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