Home Opinion and Features Time to rein in the uniform spending spree

Time to rein in the uniform spending spree

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Why do schools get away with charging these astral “school fees”? You condone “fees must fall” for university

Picture: David Ritchie / African News Agency (ANA) Archives

I CELEBRATE 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?