One of the legacies of our colonial past is the wearing of uniforms in schools. It is totally a British thing. Many countries with a a strong link to Britain follow the wearing of uniforms to school. Examples include Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa and many other African countries. In India most if not all schools have uniforms too.
In other countries, particularly in continental Europe, the USA and Canada, uniform is very rare even in state run schools. In the USA, schools started uniforms only in the 1990s. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations were in favor of school uniforms. Now other countries like Germany are picking up on the trend.
The debate over whether schools should have uniforms or not has been going on now for ages. Those who are for the proposition say that having a school uniform helps the child feel a sense of belonging and pride in his school. It helps maintain school spirit, creates a sense of discipline and responsibility in the child.
Other reasons that are cited are that it is a great social leveler, that it fosters the idea that all students stand on an equal level at school whether they come from a rich family or poor. Moreover awkward comparisons in clothing are avoided and there is no bullying over matters of dress.
There are also the practical advantages. Students don’t have to waste time thinking what to wear at the start of each school day. Uniforms usually have a utilitarian design, no long trailing sleeves, skirts or hoods to catch on dangerous equipment in workshops or science labs. So they are comfortable and safe. Shoes are also usually sensible.
It is also very helpful on trips as staff can quickly spot all the students from their school, keeping them out of trouble and making sure no one gets lost. Uniform also helps makes schools safer as it makes intruders much easier to spot. Anyone not in uniform can easily be seen and reported. Enforcing uniform rules makes everything less confusing, quicker and simpler.
Awkward show of flesh, gang insignia, designer outfits, expensive shoes can all be avoided for the sake of modicum in the school.
If parents and the community are consulted the school uniform can easily be designed to satisfy religious and cultural needs. For example, if the majority of girls are Hindu, the shalwar- kameez option as uniform can be exercised. In Muslim schools headscarves can be added to the dress code. So uniforms can be adapted to social and cultural norms.
Instead of letting children choose what they will wear to school uniforms make things easier for the parents. Parents often have to spend a lot of money on clothes as children like to go with the latest styles and want to wear new clothes all the time. Having a uniform cuts down on this expense and proves cheaper in the long run.
Children from poorer families can make do with even one set of uniform without it being noticed by his peers. Also second hand uniforms can be bought as cost cutting measures easing the burden on parents.
Last but not the least, uniforms prepare students for future careers where uniforms are worn.
People like nurses, soldiers, shop assistants, the police, army and railway staff wear uniform as part of their job. They take pride in their uniform. A uniform is a statement, “I am a …” . It makes an immediate impact.
Putting on one’s uniform at start of day prepares one mentally for work and duty. So too with children. Children get into school mode as soon as their uniform is worn.
However, none of these arguments withstanding, there are many students and parents even who strongly feel that students should not have to wear uniforms. They argue that uniforms take away from the child’s identity, individuality and freedom. Many students find wearing uniforms uncomfortable, distracting and annoying. They feel restricted by it. It can also be a cause of anxiety if a belt, tie or badge has been misplaced and cause them the added stress of a reprimand or punishment.
Some children feel that they cannot express their personalities much of which is done through individual choice of clothes. They feel their rights have been impinged upon and feel less confident. They also feel that the fun factor has been taken away from their lives.
Certain communities may find it difficult to stick by the uniform rules. Orthodox Hindus may find to difficult to accept their daughters wearing skirts and showing off their legs. Others for whom a headdress or scarf is mandated by culture or religion may find it difficult to opt out of in case the school does not allow it.
Oftentimes, the uniform is neither practical nor pleasant to wear. Designs are often old-fashioned and/or ugly. The uniform may look particularly bad on some for whom it becomes a source of embarrassment and anxiety throughout the school day.
For the sake of economy uniforms are often made of poly cottons or other materials which are hot in warm weather but don’t keep children properly warm in winter, ending up being highly uncomfortable, itchy and distressing.
Uniforms sometimes can be purchased only in one or two stores thereby making it easier for those places to hike up their prices causing unnecessary expense on an already over-burdened school budget.
Moreover, statistics have proven that there is no relation between wearing school uniforms and good grades and behaviors.
They also argue that instead of a uniform a dress code should be introduced in schools. This has all the benefits of uniform without the many disadvantages. While uniforms force all children to wear the same clothes, dress codes give students a lot of choice what to wear.
Unsuitable clothes like skimpy dresses or pyjamas should be banned and the rest left to the discretion if the child himself or herself. After all, any dress that has the “3Cs – clean, comfortable and covered up” should suffice for schools.
What do you think?