• kewal sethi

uniforms in schools

uniforms in schools

when i visited sharma senior secondary school in powai, mumbai, the principal, proudly pointed out the fact that they have introduced uniforms for the teachers. he had a big file containing cuttings from newspapers which praised the initiative of the school. i was not impressed. i said i did not consider it of much importance what the teacher is wearing so long as she is considerate, comprehending and dedicated to her job. i also said that i considered uniforms as a burden and would like to prohibit it, if it was in my power, for the students also.

the principal was appalled. he enquired whether i would also recommend abolition of uniforms for the armed forces. my counter question was whether he wanted the students to be disciplined like military people. i did not point out though i should have that the talebans, with their ramshackle dress had defeated the mighty russian army and was then engaged in fighting the american army. the uniform did not matter, the dedication did.

i asked him, as i have been asking others also, what was the purpose of asking three and four years old children to wear neckties. how does uniform (which includes ties) make them better students. the argument was that with the uniform, they all become equal and there is no inferiority complex amongst them. but it was an expensive school and the students came from well to do families. i did not believe that anyone would be shabbily dressed or that, if the uniforms was not enforced, the students will wear shirts with gold and diamond buttons to the schools. none of the teachers would be shabbily dressed if the uniform was not there and if someone flaunted her riches (there was one teacher who said in an interview to a newspapers reporter that she had 500 sarees in her wardrobe but was happy (sic) to wear the prescribed uniform saree - pity she could wear only one at a time). she could be suitably advised but would be probably unsuitable for the job.

this leads to my leading question. why are we insistent that students should wear uniforms? if they are participating in a team event, this can be understood. but why ask all of them to wear uniforms. the daily use clothes would be ok. comradeship does not flow out of uniformity. it should be ingrained in the ethos of the school. if i am proud to belong to the school, the comradeship will follow. in indian administrative service we were given a service tie in the academy. i wonder how many of us have ever worn it after we left the academy. and yet the media and the other services swear at the common solidarity of the service (of course they call it by such names as ganging up and other uncomplimentary words).

in fact we blindly follow united kingdom in this, as in many other things, where the club tie, apart from the school tie, plays a large part in the social life. but do we really need do it?

when the ministry for tribal welfare, government of india, circulated a proposal for the tribla welfare policy, it included free supply of uniforms to the tribal students in the name of unifrmity. i pointed out that in tribal areas, every one knows every one and uniforms are unnecessary. concentrate your resources, meaggre as they are, on quality education, rather than these immaterial things. .

most schools in the united states do not require uniforms, but instead enforce a standardized dress code of what types of clothing are appropriate for students to wear to school. such dress codes vary from school to school, but are normally based on broader policies set by the county's elected school board.

and why do they not hve uniform in united states and in other countries in america, because it is said that as a free country in the 'new world', countries in the americas didn't follow the idea of european schools. the idea behind american schools not making school uniforms compulsory is to restrict comformity and grant students more 'freedom' to express themselves, which grew stronger in the freewheeling 70s and 80s.

and this argument does not take into account, the fleecing of the students by prescribing that they should get uniforms from the schools. this is a normal practice in the so called public schools ( which are anything but public). even the government schools are prescribing shirts made out of chequered cloth whose patten in approved by the school. i strongly suspect that this is done in conspiracy with a particluar firm which alone produces cloth of that design. there was a time when central school organization had a uniform – white shirt and navy blue shorts (or skirts), the cloth could be bought anywhere. but they have also changed to particular design shirts. there is a method behind this madness.

it is time to do away with these superficial attempts to enforce unformity. let us have a dress code for the schools but not uniformity in clothes, in other words no school uniforms.

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