Interview date: January 17, 2000
1. When and where did you attend elementary school?
Let's see, I attended elementary school in India from when I was five years old to when I was eleven years old. That means I started attending it thirty-three years ago..
2. Which grades were you offered in your elementary school? What were the hours (when did you start and when were you dismissed)?
We had two kindergarten levels, one was called lower kindergarten which was like prep school or preschool, kindergarten, and then first grade through fifth grade. The kindergarten hours were from nine to twelve. All other grades were 8:30 to 4:30.
3. How did the children get to school?
Well, children came from all over the city, so those of them who were close by walked to school. Other kids came by a special kind of bicylce which is called a rickshaw. It's like a tricycle, a big tricycle, that a man rides and there's a kid in the back.
4. How did boys and girls dress for school?
We had uniforms. They were blue pinafores with white shirts. We had white socks and white shoes. You had to have your hair dressed in two braids. The braids had to have white ribbons on them. You couldn't wear a single braid and you couln't wear ponytails or loose hair. You couldn't wear a lot of jewelry, well, you couldn't wear jewelry at all unless it was just earrings. Boys had shorts and white shirts and they wore white shoes and white socks like the rest of us.
5. About how many children were in the class? Did you have the same teacher all year through elementary school or a different teacher each year? Did your school have combination classes?
In my class, we probably had about 30 to 35 children. We had a different teacher each year and we had singe grade classes.
To hear Lakschmi answering the next few questions, click on the microphone!
6. How were the children in your school disciplined? Did your principal interact with the students?
It depended on the teacher. Some of the teachers would rap you on the knuckles with the ruler, especially if it was a nun, they like to do that. Some of the teachers would make you stand in the corner of the room facing the class, you know, for some time, depending on how long she wanted you to do that and how badly you misbehaved. Some teachers made you stand outside the classroom and called you back in. Sometimes you stood up until she told you you could sit down. If you were really, really bad then you got sent down to the principal. Everyday we had an assembly where the principal would address the students. So she would talk to us while we were passing her; but, not on a regular basis did the principal interact with us.
9. What kind of writing materials did you use?
Until we were in second grade, we used a slate and a chalk. We also used paper and pencil, but mostly we used slate and chalk to learn our stuff. And afterwards until fourth grade we had to write with pencil. In fourth grade we wrote with pencil and with ink pen. We weren't allowed to use ball point pens until I was in tenth grade.
10. What did the school building, classrooms and desks look like? Did you have as much stuff up on the wall as we do?
The school building was a big E-shaped building. It was three stories high. The students of the school used the first two stories. The top story was for novitiate nuns who ran a school for poor women. The poor women used to come there and learn sewing or something like that. The school rooms were big open rooms with sort of wide windows that opened to the outside and they had rows of desks and we each had a desk and a chair. Until you got older you only got desks with an open space underneath to put your stuff and when you got to sixth and seventh grade you had lids on them. I should tell you this, my elementary school went over to middle school and high school all in the same building. So, we saw all these different things in the same school.
We had two big blackboards in our room. One in the front and one in the back. The one in the front was for the teacher to teach and so only along the sides of it were we allowed to decorate. The one in the back we use to decorate ourselves. The schools were too poor to buy things to put up. So we had things like maps of the world and things that were on loan from the school library that we could hang up for a few weeks. But we didn't have pictures or other things hung up in the classroom. We were allowed to decorate the blackboard in the back with the theme for each week so the students would do their own artwork on the back board. And that was it.
11. Did you have textbooks? What were they like?
Yes, we had textbooks. At the beginning of the year, before school started, you were given a list of textbooks that you had to buy. There was a particular store that sold these textbooks and you went and gave them the list and they gave you all the textbooks. They were all paperback. They were pretty small and skinny. Some of them were very well made, some of them were poorly printed. It depended on the subject. The math textbooks had problems in the front, explanations, and then the answers in the back. They had lots and lots of practice questions that you could do. The other textbooks, like the geography textbooks, had more pictures and stuff. The English textbooks had stories. They had lots and lots and lots of stories. And all the stories had vocabulary words listed after them. And you had a glossary at the end of the book that you could use to learn new words and understand the meaning of the words you were learning.
12. What was the grading system for your report cards?
The grading system was a percentage system. We had exams right from when we were in second grade. We had three sets of exams that we took. They put all the questions that you answered right and wrong and they calculated the percentage. You had to get 40% to pass a subject and if you didn't get at least 40% then they put and "F" next to it. You got a report card at the end of each quarter and at the end of the year that told you how well you did in each subject and also how well you did in your whole class, so, we also had a rank. So, if you were a class of twenty people, it said you were five out of twenty or nineteen out of twenty depending on how badly you did. And the teacher wrote comments at the bottom of the page like, so-and- so is really good at this subject but needs to improve in science or something else.
13. Did you have homework? Did you have to do projects like we do at home?
Lots and lots and lots of homework. Not many projects. We had maybe one or two projects a year.
14. How were the parents involved in school?
The parents were involved in trying to help you understand the materials they sent home. If you had to memorize your math or if you had to answer the questions they would help you read the material and help you with your homework; but most of the time we did our homework on our own. The parents were not very involved with that.
15. How were children with disabilities treated?
You know, I don't really remember there being a lot of kids with disabilities in my school. I think there were a couple of kids who had problems with eyesight and they were given a place closer to the boards so they could see better. I don't think they made any special arrangements for kids with disabilities.
16. What were your lunches like?
We brought our own lunches. We brought whatever our mothers packed for us. Whatever we normally ate for lunch our parents would pack in little lunch boxes. Some kids had hot lunches that were delivered in the afternoon. A guy would come over on his rickshaw and bring baskets for lots of people. Your mom might send you a hot lunch and some fruit or something.
17. What did you play at recess time?
We played games like "King" which is, I think, like your dodge ball . We made up a lot of games. We played four corners, tag. And we played a game called chain tag where lots of kids would get together and play. First, someone would be it and they caught someone, then the two of them would run together and catch another person so the chain would get longer and longer. We would be running all over the playground trying not to break the chain up while you caught somebody. We also played tug of war and lots of other things.
18. What is your worst memory of elementary school? What is your fondest memory?
I think my worst memory was having to go to the bathroom because the bathrooms were way, way, way far away from the class and you had to stand up and raise your hand and ask permission to go. And sometimes the teacher wouldn't look at you so you couldn't ask until she looked at you. Sometimes you had to wait an awfully long time before you got to go.
My fondest memory are my friends. I have friends from when I started elementary school all the way up to college. So, we were a group of about six friends that grew up together. We had so much fun playing on the playground and running around after school and stuff like that.