Time to rein in the uni­form spend­ing spree

Diamond Fields Advertiser - - OPINION - Alex tabisher

ICELEBRATE with the whole coun­try when our chil­dren do well in their en­deav­ours. We re­spond to suc­cess in sports, games com­pe­ti­tion, acts of char­ity, mo­ti­va­tion, so­cial out­reach and na­tional ex­ams such as ma­tric.

What is wor­ry­ing is the mind­less merry-go-round of ex­pense that seems to be a norm into which we all buy when schools restart. Providers of school uni­forms and books, in par­tic­u­lar, are clearly and glee­fully en­joy­ing an or­ches­trated frenzy of spend­ing.

It is quite stag­ger­ing to see the dif­fer­ence in price de­pend­ing on where par­ents shop. The cost of a shirt from one shop to an­other can dif­fer by R100 or more. I ac­cept that qual­ity is price-re­lated. But who is fool­ing who?

Are there no checks and bal­ances to pro­tect the par­ents who have just come off the silly sea­son with its mon­u­men­tal strain on a creak­ing bud­get?

Could we not, as a strug­gling coun­try, agree to im­ple­ment the mean­ing em­bed­ded in the word “uni­form”? The dic­tionary de­fines it as cloth­ing of dis­tinc­tive de­sign worn by mem­bers of a par­tic­u­lar group as a means of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. As an ad­jec­tive, it can mean un­vary­ing or single. It also im­plies con­sis­tency and ho­mo­gene­ity, not dif­fer­en­ti­ated. The word is made up of “uni”, a pre­fix de­not­ing one­ness, and “form”, which loosely trans­lates into “shape”.

I would in­ter­ro­gate the con­cept of “dis­tinc­tive de­sign” as the soft un­der­belly that al­lows some schools to go ba­nanas on colour and con­fig­u­ra­tion. Of­ten these de­signs are an ex­ten­sion of the prin­ci­pal teacher’s pref­er­ence.

The de­sign could also be driven by an ide­ol­ogy, which is where things can be­come prob­lem­atic.

I am strain­ing to sug­gest that we help our ail­ing fis­cus by agree­ing to make uni­forms uni­form. How about ac­cept­ing that the grey, light blue and white (with per­haps some khaki) be re­vis­ited to re­duce costs to par­ents. I con­cede that the uni­form gives the learner iden­tity, a sense of se­cu­rity, safety, be­long­ing. But a ne­go­ti­ated agree­ment with par­ents of a strain­ing eco­nomic stra­tum could bring wel­come re­lief.

I could ar­gue that the uni­form doesn’t do a lot for aca­demic rigour. But that can’t be fi­nally (and fa­tally) true. What we need is to re­de­fine where we are go­ing. Learn­ers could be in­vited to have a say. They could demo­crat­i­cally agree that a plain uni­form doesn’t mean re­duced aca­demic mus­cu­lar­ity. The through-put fig­ures should be touted as a truer re­flec­tion of aca­demic health.

A word for the au­thor­i­ties.

Why do schools get away with charg­ing these as­tral “school fees”? You con­done “fees must fall” for uni­ver­sity. And the added bur­den of vig­or­ous fund-rais­ers that in­ter­fere with the cur­ric­u­lar flow should also be ad­dressed.

Where are the taxes we pay, and the free ed­u­ca­tion promised by the best Con­sti­tu­tion in the world?

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