Time for a uniformed approach
Students barred from attending classes due to inappropriate attire. (Photo: Kimberley Peddie)

Dear Editor,

A topical issue in the local newspapers has been the recent incidents in which some schools have prohibited students from going to classes because they were improperly attired.

This has triggered a national debate on the issue of uniforms. What has appalled me most is that parents are up in arms against schools that are trying to instil discipline in their children, and the Ministry of Education seems to be pandering to the rabble-rousers. Isn't it about time that the Government formulates a uniformed approach to school uniforms?

I grew up in an era when school uniforms was normative. For the girls, schools had different styles, colours, and length requirements, but for boys it was the wearing of that blessed khaki nationwide.

For Caribbean students uniforms were as sacred as the national flag. I grew up poor and I thanked God for uniforms. My mother would wash our uniforms every evening until her hands became shrivelled, and even though we did not have much, we had pride of belonging and our self-esteem was not compromised because we were like everyone else -- uniformed.

Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

Uniforms were a sign of identity. You knew which school the student attended and that uniform spoke volumes of the tenets of that particular institution.

Wearing uniforms helped to level the playing field so that whatever the socio-economic status of the student no one would be the wiser because of what they wore to school since all students were dressed the same. There was no rivalry, except for showing who could be the neatest and cleanest. Some students may not have had more than two pairs, but that was not known because everyone wore the no-brand name uniforms, most, with pride.

There was something else that was beautiful about wearing uniforms, students focused more on academia than on fads and fashions. I am happy that there were uniforms as many students would not have been happy to come to school because they could not afford to be chic and compete with designer outfits.

This Euro-centric heritage has served us well, and it surprises me to learn that this has become an issue in Jamaica.

Most schools in the USA are not uniformed. There is a school of thought that mandating uniforms stifles creativity, free speech, and individuality. However, studies now show that the schools in the USA that have adopted uniform-wearing exhibit and encourage common respect and improve the learning environment, consequently a number of school districts are now moving toward mandating the wearing of uniforms, and where it has already been adopted there have been signs of significant improvement both academically and in the students' behaviour.

Against this backdrop I support stringent rules for implementation of school uniforms in Jamaica. Compliance should not be an option. It creates an effective learning environment, provides better safety and security, and enhances school unity and pride. Students who comply with school rules are preparing themselves for the days ahead when they will leave the aquarium to paddle in the ocean of life. Compliance with schools' code of conduct is an index of how well students are going to comply with national norms.

I share Member of Parliament Nesta Morgan's view that attire should not be a hinderance to accessing education; however, I believe that the Government should set reasonable 21st century rules that are common denominators for all schools, and students should be made to comply.

What I don't seem to understand is what Education Minister Fayval Williams is saying when she said that barring students from entering school due to policy breaches was in contravention of Article 28 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child as well as the 2004 Child Care and Protection Act. Really? So that's licence for children to breach policies and still be allowed in school. No wonder the school rooms have become war zones and no wonder there is such indecency and disrespect in our schools. How did we ever get here?

I was reflecting and I can't recall ever hearing of parents coming to any of the schools I attended or taught to have unhealthy confrontations with teachers and to support children when they fail to comply. Help me understand what is going to happen in the classrooms of tomorrow if somebody does not bell the cat. Is it any wonder that teachers are leaving the classrooms, even to become domestic helpers?

Where there is no national rules there will be naught but anarchy and chaos. I think the Government should rise to the occasion with urgency and put the necessary legislative framework in place. The matter can no longer be left to local school boards to handle. This is of national import. And that is how I see it.

Burnett Robinson

blpprob@aol.com

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