What’s in Your Jamaican School Bag?

As we begin a new school year in Jamaica, some things remain constant—lengthy book lists and last-minute visits to our trusted and ill-tempered dressmaker. However, one aspect that has undergone a significant transformation over the years is the contents of a student’s backpack. Whether they were sneaked in as contraband or deemed essential, the items found in the backpacks of Jamaican students in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s differed in fascinating ways.

The 1980s: Marbles and Metal Lunch kits

In the 1980s, a necessary item found in the backpack of Jamaican students was the trusty metal lunch kit. These lunch boxes were as sturdy as they were reliable, housing homemade meals prepared with love. However, among the lunchtime essentials lurked contraband—marbles. Marbles were not just a playful distraction, but also the source of many friendships and challenges during break times.

The 1990s: Colourful Erasers and Walkmans

Fast-forward to the 1990s, and students were toting around another essential: large, colourful erasers. These erasers, while stylish and eye-catching, often left faint marks on paper that did more harm than good in the eyes of teachers. Still, they were a must-have accessory. Hidden among these erasers were contraband items like Walkmans or portable cassette players, discreetly stowed away to avoid being labelled as distractions.

The 2000s: Scientific Calculators and Flip Phones

In the 2000s, a new era dawned for the backpacks of Jamaican students. The necessary item was the scientific calculator, an indispensable tool for mathematics and science classes. Contraband, on the other hand, took the form of cellphones. While most schools did not permit cellphones and had designated storage areas for them, resourceful students always found ways to sneak them in, often hiding them in inconspicuous places during spot checks.

In reflecting on these decades of change, one thing remains clear—the resourcefulness and adaptability of Jamaican students. Despite evolving rules and technologies, students found creative ways to embrace both tradition and innovation, shaping their educational experiences in unique ways.

Photo –  Deposit Photos

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