Cell phone alarms shrilly pierce the early-morning quiet. Microwave bells ding to announce “breakfast is ready.” New uniforms are donned, coupled with brand-name shoes and school bags, and cars and buses take students to school. This is a typical school day in today’s modern world. However, school was very different 50 years ago in Cayman. With the night sky just starting to fade, the children were awakened by parents to do chores: hauling buckets of water from the well, gathering eggs for breakfast or milking the cows. All before starting the long, dusty, hot and (quite often) barefoot walk to school.
Roosevelt Rankine recollects: “My grand-aunt Lucy Ann McLean used to have what they call now a kindergarten school… She had a big almond tree and she used to put benches under that in the days when the mosquitoes weren’t so thick, but besides that then she had the lessons in the house.”
Reading was highly valued, and lessons might consist of reading aloud from Royal Readers textbooks. They also studied other subjects, including math, science and geography. One thing that has not changed was the eager anticipation of recess and lunchtime. Many students would go home for lunch, which might consist of porridge, a roasted potato or fish.
Once the school day ended, evening chores had to be attended to: sweeping the sand yards, scrubbing floors, cooking dinner and feeding younger siblings. Plus, children had to study their lessons and be in bed before dark, as there was no electricity and candles or kerosene lamps were only used sparingly. Even with these obstacles, the students excelled in school, with many continuing their education overseas, especially in Jamaica. They then returned home to become Pupil Teachers (sometimes at 16 years of age), advancing through the years to Assistant Teachers, Head Teachers and Schoolmasters. In the words of Vernice Ebanks, “We were told to think for ourselves, as someone else’s head knowledge would not be of any use to us after we went into the world, and so well I have experienced that.”
Photographer: Courtesy of Cayman Islands National Archive