The school dress is in the cross hairs 

News: Recently, the Karnataka government had ordered a school uniform code to be followed in the classroom as well as the examination hall.

In fact, the Kendriya Vidyalayas (central schools) which are not governed by the provincial government have also fallen in line with the Karnataka order.  

A historical background of school uniform 

The colonial systems of education generally favoured the strict enforcement of the school uniform.  

The idea of a school uniform has spread with urbanisation, prosperity and privatisation. In fact, rural and small-town schools seldom insisted on a daily uniform in the early years of Independence.  

The supply of uniforms offered business opportunities for the schools, local cloth merchants, tailors and shoe stores. Therefore, the uniform business was encouraged and the private schools started demanding every day wearing of the prescribed uniform. It also induced local monopolies.  

Importance of school uniform 

A school uniform ensures children are uniformly dressed. It helps in the regimentation of the young.  

Argument against Karnataka’s decision 

In the long history of education, there is no evidence that a school uniform is a factor in learning.  

Sri Aurobindo in his “The Ideal of Human Unity” explained that diversity tempts for uniformity. But uniformity does not contribute to a sense of relatedness or unity. 

The mandated school uniform can lead to curtailing the already limited autonomy of principals and teachers. 

The Karnataka government should have focused on other education reforms. Policy reforms have been pending since the 1960s. Pre-university or junior colleges prevail in Karnataka. However, other states have adopted the 10+2 model recommended by the Kothari Commission nearly 60 years ago.  

Key distinction between Uniform and Dress Code: (1) A uniform is different from a dress code. A uniform is more prescriptive than a dress code. The Dress code expects the student to avoid using clothes which displays status or wealth of the student, and (2) On the other hand, A uniform may go as far as prescribing not just the colour but also the material and the design or cut 

Way Forward 

There is a need for a significant reorganisation of the administrative system in education. The school principals and teachers should be given a greater say and freedom in establishing the norms that govern institutional life. 

The Kothari report recommended a participatory role for the community in matters of day-to-day life at school and decline for bureaucratic authority, creating greater room for school autonomy.  

The government should have recommended a dress code instead of recommending a particular uniform. If elaborated, the uniforms should be used where inequality is pervasive in a society.  

The government should open public debates. All the stakeholders, especially teachers should be allowed to participate. They are closer to students. They are more sensitive to what makes classroom life more comfortable for all.  

The Kothari Commission suggestion should be implemented. The recommendation intended to make classroom teaching less stereotyped, more lively and child-centred. 

Source: The post is based on an article “The school dress is in the cross hairs” published in the “The Hindu” on 06th May 2022. 

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