Why radical proposal on school uniforms misses the point

Parents and students queue at Uniform distributors in River Road to buy learning requirements early this year. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]
In what could have been the case of unintended consequences, a proposal to have all students in primary and secondary schools wear similar uniforms has kicked up a huge storm.

While the Ministry of Education is still studying the proposal, if the furore it has caused is anything to go by, then the ministry will have to do a lot of convincing.

One of the reasons the proposal has been roundly rejected is because to many of the stakeholders in the sector, the proposal seeks to fix a non-existent problem by disregarding what is steeped in tradition and culture and to a large extent, defines the character of an institution.

The nuances denoted by the colour of the uniform have over time become part and parcel of schooling.

Thus the green in Alliance Girls High School or the blue and red for Starehe Boys Centre mean more than a piece of clothing.

Indeed, a school uniform is more than a dressing. Passed on from generation to generation, a uniform forms a school’s rich history and heritage and shared values; it bestows the wearer with a sense of identity and honour. Moreover, no one has complained about the uniforms besides parents who (justifiably) find the price too exorbitant as a result of collision between schools and uniform makers.

Maybe the government, finding itself in the back foot, could be exploring what it thinks are new and better ways of addressing the current wave of student unrest in schools.

And that with one uniform, it would be easy to mark out students from a crowd.

Be that as it may, student strikes require a different prescription. Changing the colour of the uniform is not one of them. In fact, homogeneity risks exacerbating the problem rather than providing a cure. What’s to stop any miscreant from throwing on a school uniform and engaging in misdeeds?

From the foregoing, it would be smart for the Ministry of Education to separate issues to avoid unnecessary tension: First by coming down hard on exploitative clothes’ merchants robbing parents their hard-earned money and two; by finding and addressing what really is at the centre of the outbreak of the student riots.

For in spite of the stringent measures announced by Education CS Amina Mohammed, schools are burning.

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