In Kenya, most students wear a school uniform up to approximately the age of 18, when they clear high school. This is commonplace in African schools. In Kenya it is not even an issue that is up for debate. It is much of a legal requirement for public schools but private schools have run with it for pretty much the same reasons that education experts outline, to an extent that one would think it is a basic requirement for one to start a private school.
For the purpose of this article, we will look at the benefits of school uniforms from the point of view of African schools in general and Kenyan schools in specific in an attempt to explain the benefits of a school uniform. Some of the reasons for the support the system of a mandatory school uniform in this article may apply beyond the Kenyan context and African continent.
In a continent where social order is deeply rooted in tradition, discipline is of paramount importance. Probably the main reason for mandatory school uniforms in most schools in Africa is in aid of the promotion of discipline among students, not just for academic purposes but also beyond the academic sphere. Discipline here is in relation to neatness and instilling a culture of order largely through appropriate dressing, something that the students will eventually have to put into professional practice in the workplace. A school is the most important place to educate young minds on the need to follow a required dress code.
Identity is a major role of school uniforms. School uniforms also help in maintaining social order through making it easy for society to identify students among them. This has had modern day positive effects especially in Kenya where those in the public transport business at times allow students who commute to skip the evening rush hour queues so that they can get home from school early. The very young students aged up to about fourteen years of age can at times be allowed to commute without being charged. The need for identification also arises during inter-school gatherings such as a science congress, annual drama festivals and sporting events where various schools interact.
Equality is promoted through school uniforms. In a continent where there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor there is a dire need to ensure that there is a sense of equality in as many areas as possible. It is especially important for young people to learn that in as much as they come from various backgrounds, be it economic, religious or ethnic, they are equal in their goals and purpose in the academic institutions. School uniforms do this rather effectively in that they cost the roughly the same amount and they are alike thus bring out a sense of equality among the students regardless of where they come from.
School uniforms also create a good ambience for academic activity in that they eliminate the unnecessary competition common among students of who is better dressed, who has the most creative attire and so on, thus encouraging the students to stand out in more productive ways such as academic excellence, artistic talent, public speaking and sports.
Crime in schools and against students on their way to and from school can be greatly reduced through mandatory school uniforms. School uniforms ensure that students do not put on expensive clothes and jewellery that will put them at risk of being robbed by fellow students or members of the public with ill intentions. They also reduce the risk of sexual offences against students in and out of academic institutions as school uniforms are designed in a way that they are not sexually provocative or revealing. Other ills that can be avoided through the design of school uniforms include concealing weapons and drugs that would be easily concealed in baggy compartmented attire.
Generally, mandatory school uniforms serve a social function in that they help eliminate some of the social ills that may find their way in and around schools. It is however important that school administrators and parents play a key role in the formation and safety of students. School uniforms do help but they are not the ultimate solution; they are but a supportive structure.
Daniels, S. (May, 2002). Student Dress Policies: The Success of School Uniforms and Dress Codes. Findings, 2-4.