The great Nelson Mandela noted that “Prison not only robs of your freedom, it attempts to take away your identity. Everyone wears a uniform, eats the same food, follows the same schedule… one must fight against the prison’s attempt to rob one of these qualities”. It is interesting to note that the majority of the schools in public and private sectors appear to share some of the mentioned situations: where students wear uniform, follow the same schedule, contrary to the contemporary educational discourse that students are unique beings and have unique learning styles. That is why different teaching methods and a variety of activities are proposed to address their uniqueness and needs. However, in practice it is easily observable that schools are more inclined to view students as alike. That is why the use of uniforms is encouraged. One of the arguments and assumptions about uniform is that it is a way of inculcating discipline amongst students. However, this notion appears to be
misleading, that is why some of the good schools across the globe do not have uniforms for their students.
I have observed some high quality schools which have no uniforms and they have comparatively less issues. The schools managements have provided their teachers and headteachers with training opportunities, as a result less or no discipline issues arise. Some people may argue that uniforms give the students a sense and feeling that they are same, which is not problematic when students see themselves and their colleagues socially, though the idea can still be contested. However, when students are viewed same in terms of their potentials and inherent qualities, and their uniqueness are ignored, then sameness is a big problem. The psychological effect of the uniform then can lead to rob students of their uniqueness. Another proposition is that teachers will treat each student equally without considering their socio-economic backgrounds. Moreover, uniforms will prevent relatively poor students from the inferiority complex and bad feeling that might arise in the case students from rich background attend with expensive dresses to a school. Thus, the uniforms will end the negative feelings.
These arguments appear to be right at the surface level, and that they serve the purpose. Nevertheless, a careful analysis of the different types of schools which are easily observable, in the different contexts, and particularly in Pakistan, suggests that there are hardly such schools where rich and poor attend the same system. We have different types of private schools each catering to the needs of the richest, richer, rich, poor and poorer students. The poorest usually do not have any school to go. That is why only 70% of school-going age children got enrollment while 41% drop out at primary level according to the statistics provided by National Education Policy (NEP) 2009. The public schools and Madrassa’s are meant in most cases for the poor and poorer. So what is the
need to prescribe uniforms when students have different types of schools according to their different socio-economic status? Despite, the underlying assumption and intent of uniforms that same amount of attention will be given to students, the uniforms fail to draw same amount of care. In the classrooms’ situation, the prevalent form of seating arrangements and the sloppy three seater desks also impede variety of teaching learning activities. Due to lack of proper training, the teachers’ attention for most of the time remains focused on the students who sit on the front seats. The back benchers are usually not the lucky ones to capture their attention. Thus, we have lost individuality and uniqueness in uniformity. Even, if the same amount of attention and support with uniform method will be extended to all students, even then uniformity cannot be achieved. Therefore, what is the logic of uniform when it does not serve the purpose?
It is unnatural to treat every student with one way as each individual has been bestowed with unique programming by nature. Therefore, it is worthwhile to learn about the individuality of each student and employ ways to identify those learning and teaching styles that best fulfills individuals’ needs. Therefore, every icon which pretentiously misleads for uniformity and ignores individuality needs to be seriously reconsidered and need to be adjusted to the learning needs. Contrary to the demands of modern educational discourse, majority of the educational institutions appear to ignore the individuality, which is why they emphasize that students must attend schools wearing uniforms. Even if students come from same backgrounds, they are not necessarily the same and their individuality and uniqueness cannot be ignored for the sake of uniformity. Any attempt to treat them uniformly will be amounted to try to fit every student in the same mould without consideration of the student’s inherent potentials and capabilities.
In such situations when students will not get conducive learning environment they are likely to get less interest in the academic affairs and this will lead to poor results and dropouts. This is not to suggest that schools end uniforms altogether, instead public and other education providers need to evaluate their uniform policies. According to a reliable source it was found that in Social Action Plan Schools where students have no uniform, their enrolment is the highest compared to regular public and private schools in Astore district, in Gilgit-Baltistan. It is true that the high enrolment in the above mentioned schools were also due to other factors such as free schooling and provisions of stationeries. But, the visit of one government school in a particular district showed sharp decline after the restriction of uniform was imposed. It implied that uniforms were more important than the education of children. When I asked, ‘why is the restriction not lifted?’ I was told that it will disrupt the
discipline. It is worth mentioning that the NEP 2009 emphasizes uniformity of curriculum and other related issues, yet it does not have any reference to school uniforms nor does it have any indication of disciplinary issues. The policy has prioritized about other important urges and needs of children, yet a significant number of students are out of school, as these urges are still a dream. Children’s urge to be seen as unique ones was once expressed to me during a school visit. When a group of children wearing khaki shalwar Qamiz, asked me and an education officer “Will you please, change our uniform?” thinking that we were the authority to change their uniforms. I asked the children “why you want to change your uniform?”. One child responded that “we are sick of wearing this uniform for many years”. Another child responded that “everyone wears this sort of garments”. Probably he meant that they need to be seen as a unique beings-students. Still another said “we want pant-shirt uniform”.
The other children gave their own reasons. We shared the children’s demand with the only teacher of the school, on his return from the Zuhar prayer, and sought his opinion on the demand. The teacher strongly objected to the idea and said that “pant-shirt was not an Islamic dress”. The children whose thoughts were not at the sophisticated level were already seeing themselves as unique beings. At that moment they didn’t realise that their individuality and uniqueness also needs to be seen distinctively, amongst their peers, and that other uniforms will continue to keep such uniqueness covered. Based on the above discussion it can be deduced that uniforms cannot be the only solution to discipline students. Even the term discipline itself is a vague term and it needs to be elaborated as it is may mean different in different contexts. Therefore, prescribing just one solution-the school uniform will be pointless.
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