As if teachers do not have enough challenges to wrestle with in their classrooms, the adherence to uniformity is emerging as a major issue, with some students refusing to comply with the established dress code.
As schools reopened after the long summer break, there have been several reports of principals slamming the door shut on students who turned up for classes in tight pants and short skirts.
Left over from our colonial past, the concept of uniformity in schools is important for a number of reasons: it seeks to encourage discipline; diminishes the barrier between the well-off and the poor; eliminates brand-name envy; and enhances school pride.
While many persons understand the importance of adherence to school dress codes, others argue that children should be allowed to express their individuality. There are those who would advocate a clothing free-for-all in our schools, as exists in some countries.
The school uniform controversy has surfaced many times before. The issues ranged from uniforms to shoes to hairstyles. In the past, students wearing dreadlocks were forced to seek remedy from the courts claiming civil-rights violation. And in more recent times, one Corporate Area principal asserted her authority and sent home students who wore sandals to schools.
DISCIPLINE, RESPECT IMPORTANT
What we can all, hopefully, agree on is that a healthy school environment is desirable for children to perform at their best, and that one of the biggest deterrents to achieving maximum educational goals is poor discipline and lack of respect.
Experts say roughly 50 per cent of a student's academic ability is shaped by pre-enrolment experience. This includes the student's background, parental support and his own talents and ambitions. Teachers may add, at most, 25 per cent to their achievement.
It seems that there are many students out there who are more preoccupied with their appearance than their performance. In the absence of a dress code, we foresee the most inappropriate outfits turning up in classrooms. But teachers are not fashion police; their main objective is to see that their students succeed.
Parents should support the school, inform themselves about the dress code, and thereafter monitor their children for compliance.
Students must also exhibit a greater level of responsibility as they are the ones seeking an education. For example, one student who was locked out was heard complaining that he was supposed to be doing school-based assessment. If this student was serious about his work and future, he would have done everything to comply with school requirements and would have been in class. Instead, he was on the outside trying to make a case for his tight pants.
The wearing of uniforms is associated with values such as social order and discipline. Students who are now refusing to conform to their school's dress code are giving a pretty good indication of the kind of citizens they are likely to become.
The Ministry of Education must continue to support school principals who are trying to instil a culture of respect and compliance.
In an era of persistent school violence and rampant indiscipline, we believe principals are correct to stamp their authority. And there is no better time to do it than at the beginning of the school year.
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