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The great school uniform debate

When I was given the assignment to write about the pros and cons of school uniforms, my initial thought was, “Is there even an argument about this?” Having worn them from kindergarten all through high school, experience tells me that uniforms are convenient and a great way to not have to worry about what you’ll be wearing.

In this scene from the Korean drama
‘The Heirs’ the lead players are dressed
in snazzy versions of a private school
uniform.
In college, I went to a school that didn’t require uniforms and that gave me a lot of freedom to show off my personal style (or more accurately, during that time, lack thereof). It was liberating to be able to wear jeans and T-shirts—sometimes, even shorts—to class but I remember days when I wished there was a prescribed uniform so that all my “panlakad” clothes wouldn’t suffer wear-and-tear so quickly.

So yes, I began working on this article as a school uniform proponent. But the question of whether students should still be wearing school uniforms is a timely one. While there is no widespread opposition to the prescription of standardized classroom attire, we have to ask if the practice is serving a purpose; if it benefits the students and their parents; if it makes sense in this age of #OOTDs and unpredictable weather. Or are we simply following the rules—blindly—because we’re used to it?

The pros

The greatest advantages of wearing uniforms that proponents cite are (1) lack of hierarchy, (2) focusing students’ attention to education and away from “distractions,” like fashion, (3) sense of belonging and promotion of school spirit, (4) security in uniformity, making outsiders easier to spot, and (5) monetary savings.

School uniforms are
believed to have a
negative effect on
self-expression and
personality development.
Because everyone’s wearing the same thing, the line between the rich and the poor is blurred and the distinction isn’t as obvious as when students are free to decide on their own outfits. This, supposedly, discourages the formation of cliques based on social status and gives the underprivileged more self-confidence as they’re less prone to discrimination and bullying. With the absence of personal style, fashion-reinforced stereotypes are also out of the equation. Since school uniforms are mostly more formal in appearance than regular street clothing, prescribing them is said to train students to dress appropriately for the academic setting (which, in turn, prepares them for business dressing).

Actual monetary savings, in this case, is subjective and relies on the cost of the prescribed school uniforms vis-a-vis the cost of an individual’s “civilian” clothing, which varies greatly depending on one’s purchasing power and personal style. School uniforms for private universities, in particular, can be a financial burden for poorer students and their families.

The cons

On the other hand, the main disadvantage of enforcing a school uniform rule is its effect on self-expression and personality development. Instead of encouraging and nurturing creativity and individuality in children in their formative years, forcing them to conform to a prescribed standard stifles these characteristics.

Uniforms help parents and students save
money because the same things are worn
over and over again.
On Debate.org, a polling Web site that gives the public the opportunity to be heard on the polarizing issues, people who are against school uniforms often cite reasons related to freedom of expression and physical attributes in defending their stance.

Opponents are also quick to negate the supposed positive effects of school uniforms. Cliques, they say, are formed regardless of daily attire, economic and social barriers are not really diminished but rather simply masked, and the wearing of school colors intensify the rivalry among schools. As a preventive measure against bullying and violence, the practice only acts as a Band-aid, it is claimed.

Further—and perhaps, this is one of the most important argument against the practice—school uniforms, which are mostly gender-coded, contribute nothing to the promotion of gender equality in schools, making the practice of wearing them counterproductive.

The alternatives

Each side of the debate has their own valid arguments. But this is one debate that doesn’t necessarily have to a winner and a loser. A middle ground can be reached, as suggested by various education experts. A possible solution is for schools to have a dress code, or a set of allowed garments that students can wear in lieu of standard-issue uniforms.

Another alternative is to give school leaders, administrators and stakeholders the power to decide on which scheme would work for their specific environments and populations, whether to enforce a classroom-attire rule (everyday or on select says) or to let students choose their own schoolwear with guidelines on what’s acceptable and proper.

However, none of those proposals have gained traction. So for now, the debate continues.

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