This article featured in our last year’s School Guide but due to its popularity, we decided to maintain it for another year.
By a (very) Old Boy
Going to a private school, in the 1960s when I was a kid, was very unusual. There were probably three or four fee-charging schools in all of Cyprus. Back then, more than half the houses on the street did not have a black and white television or telephone, every neighbourhood had a grocery store, many people used buses to get to work, the bicycle was the most popular form of transport and the biggest event of the year was the opening of the State Fair.
Someone who went to a private primary school in those days was considered something akin to an alien or a freak by the rest of the kids in the neighbourhood, who all knew each other from going to the local school. Private school was something exotic. You were an outsider without realising it because in contrast to everyone else, you were driven to school (it was too far away to walk there), wore a fancy uniform that included a tie in winter, you could speak English and were probably a bit snooty about the lack of facilities at the state schools.
This did not stop you from playing marbles, hide-and-seek or exchanging football player cards with the other kids, but you always knew they regarded you as spoiled and soft, an over-protected baby that could not cope with the rougher kids of the neighbourhood. There was a wonderful word used to describe us – voutiropedo (butter-child) – because we were perceived as privileged softies that would melt like butter as soon as we encountered a little roughness. The ‘voutiropedo’ tag was used more frequently to your face once you went to private secondary school and was resorted to regularly in the National Guard but it was just part of the banter.
Being called a ‘voutiropedo’ or being seen as some kind of alien creature was not such a big deal. It certainly did not make me want to leave my private school, at which life was much more exciting than at the state schools, judging by what the other kids used to say. They did not have school Houses, which competed against each other in football, netball and a school quiz every term; they did not play football as part of the curriculum or shoot the ball into a net – at my primary school we would set up nets when there was important match against the Armenian school or the Houses final.
Being an education outcast had its benefits and there were even more at private secondary school in the 70s even though the effects of the invasion were very fresh and every class had refugee students; school started later than usual in 1974. Again, there were school Houses which competed at football, basketball, softball, hockey, volleyball and tennis not to mention track and field events.
For ‘voutiropeda’ that loved sports there was no place like the English School (Nicosia) in those days, with football pitches, hockey pitch, basketball and tennis courts. There were no such facilities in the state schools, at which sports were not even part of the curriculum. We also had the twice-yearly sports encounter against the American Acadamy (Larnaca), the two schools competing in about seven or eight sports, the main event always being the senior football match, which occasionally ended in a fight.
For the less sporty, there was an array of clubs, such as the photographic society, the Radio Club, St John’s Ambulance, Drama Club and, of course, the school choir and orchestra, which were unheard of in those days in state schools. Arguably, the biggest plus of being at a private school was that boys could wear their hair as long as they liked – this was the 70s and long hair was de rigeur if you wanted to be hip – in contrast to the state school boys who were obliged to have a short back and sides because of some education ministry directive.
By the time I graduated, there were many more private schools in Nicosia and nobody batted an eye-lid when you told them you attended one. Even less so nowadays when almost one in five secondary students attend a private school. Even the title of voutiropedo has lost its impact today, because there are so many fee-charging schools.