Pupils want an end to ‘ugly’ out­dated uni­forms

Mail & Guardian - - News - Bongek­ile Macupe

Re­cently, pupils from Hoërskool Pre­to­ria West de­manded that skinny pants be in­cor­po­rated into their school uni­form. It was short-lived: their par­ents voted against their amend­ment to the school’s dress code.

But should they be dis­missed as teenagers seek­ing attention? Cer­tainly not, say sev­eral high school pupils.

Na­tional guide­lines say uni­forms help par­ents and pupils to re­sist peer pres­sure, ren­der­ing “unnecessary [any] de­mands for par­tic­u­lar and of­ten ex­pen­sive cloth­ing”. In­stead, uni­forms are said to in­stil dis­ci­pline and al­low pupils to con­cen­trate on school­work. But some pupils be­lieve schools should move with the times.

“They need to in­cor­po­rate the style of dress­ing that we iden­tify with be­cause we are in the 21st cen­tury. We are a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion and things have long changed from the time of our par­ents. Our fa­thers wore the old, bor­ing grey trousers; our broth­ers wore the grey trousers; we are still wear­ing it. It’s de­press­ing,” said one pupil.

For some, their school uni­form is “ugly” and af­fects their self-con­fi­dence. “When you are dressed in some­thing that you do not like, you don’t feel good; and with a school uni­form it even makes you not to en­joy school be­cause you are not com­fort­able in the clothes you are wear­ing,” another said.

Ac­cord­ing to the guide­lines, gov­ern­ing bod­ies should de­ter­mine the school uni­form, although high school pupils should be able to give their in­put be­fore a fi­nal de­ci­sion is made. But pupils said this was sel­dom the case, and oc­ca­sion­ally bor­dered on dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“For ex­am­ple, at my school some gay learn­ers used to wear skirts to school and they stopped them and told them to wear pants be­cause they are boys. I feel that was wrong, be­cause you had peo­ple who were com­fort­able with their sex­u­al­ity and wanted to dress that way but were not al­lowed to,” a pupil said.

The guide­lines say that if pupils wear some­thing that is not ap­proved, they could face dis­ci­plinary ac­tion.

Pro­fes­sor Elda de Waal of North-West Uni­ver­sity said pupils must be guided to be re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens able to de­bate mat­ters. There­fore, schools shouldn’t dis­miss pupils’ views but should also not give in to them.

“We must hear the learn­ers’ voices and not say: ‘No, we have never done this be­fore.’ But lis­ten and en­gage with them and their par­ents, who are the peo­ple who dig their hands in the pocket and buy school uni­forms.”

Fol­low­ing tra­di­tion: ‘Our fa­thers wore the old, bor­ing grey trousers; our broth­ers wore the grey trousers; we are still wear­ing it. It’s de­press­ing,’ says a pupil. Photo: Del­wyn Verasamy

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