Ina Opperman
Business Journalist
3 minute read
5 Mar 2021
9:56 am

Isn’t it time we got rid of school uniforms?

Ina Opperman

Many parents were happy to hear that four school governing bodies had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Competition Commission on Monday to strengthen competition policy in the regulation of procurement of school uniforms and other learning-related goods and services.

Picture: iStock

This memorandum goes hand-in-hand with the school uniform guidelines of the department of basic education that requires school uniforms be as generic as possible to ensure parents can buy items from a variety of suppliers and that exclusivity should be limited to items that the school regards as necessary to buy from pre-selected suppliers.

Dressing a child for school can be very expensive if every item must carry the school branding. Blazers are the most expensive items and even a pair of “school socks” can cost up to R150 per pair. If you have more than one child, it can be very difficult to afford these necessities.

Later in the week basic education minister Angie Motshekga said removing school uniforms would only serve to highlight inequalities. She emphasised that the value of school uniforms should never be undermined as they hide the massive inequalities that exist in society.

However, she also mentioned that many parents approached her and called for the department to do away with school uniforms, but she believes that removing the school uniform gives wealthier children the chance to boast their designer clothes, and puts poorer children at a disadvantage.

After signing the memorandum, Competition Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele said school uniforms are an important “tool of learning” that contributes to social cohesion, inclusion, school identity and a sense of belonging.

School governing bodies have the right to decide on what your child wears to school and they can no longer force parents to buy expensive items that can be found cheaper elsewhere. Parents also have the right to ask questions about agreements with exclusive suppliers.

And this is exactly where the buck stops, because parents believe they should be seen and not heard at their child’s school. You do not question why your child needs that uncomfortable and very expensive blazer that does not even keep him warm in winter. You pay up for the expensive stationery pack the school offers instead of buying every item separately.

You are so happy that your child could get into a school that you would rather not ask any questions. Looking for alternatives such as having children wear simple and warm track suits and takkies in winter and a T-shirt and shorts with sandals in summer would never cross your mind, because why change something that has been working for more than a hundred years?

More comfortable clothes can still be regulated by making rules such as no cropped t-shirts and no torn jeans. Maybe it is time to ask the children what they want to wear. Will they be happier with school uniforms or more informal clothes?

I am sure some parents will want to send me to the naughty corner for wanting to change what our children wear to school. But is it not time to give them freedom of expression and dignity? What dignity is there to a sweaty child in a collar and tie AND a blazer in the Gauteng summer heat?

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