Thinking beyond uniformity

Seetha Anand

As I drive to work, I see children rushing to school, smartly dressed in checks and stripes, tucked in shirts, ties, shoes, and socks. In the evening too I see them, but no longer are they smart, the shirts are no longer neatly tucked, ties are dangling loosely, socks that were up to the calves in the morning are down now… Children look sweaty and dishevelled. The neat whites look off-white or some even have shades of brown on them!

In a situation where children of various social strata, backgrounds and cultures go to the same school, having a uniform is a sensible practice. But when I see children returning from school as described above, I often wonder about the logic behind such inappropriate uniforms? Do schools ever brainstorm about the logic behind the uniforms that they choose?

Uniforms should be weather appropriate. Ties worn tightly around buttoned collars are ridiculous in a predominantly warm climate like India. When the British colonized our nation, they also converted our educational system on the lines of what was practiced in their country. They also brought in uniforms that were donned in their schools. Being a cold country, ties were required and almost a necessity. It defies logic to practice that in India, especially in the summer when the weather can get uncomfortably hot.

Footwear too calls for some change. Children return home with smelly and often itchy feet. Cotton socks are not easily available. The commonly available nylon and other synthetic socks cause rashes and skin irritation. Except for sports, students in warm climates do not require to wear shoes and socks. Sandals that allow the feet to “breathe” are more appropriate and sensible.

The fabric also needs to be weather appropriate. Cotton seems to be the most sensible choice of fabrics. Cotton absorbs sweat and is skin friendly. During winter months, a jacket, vest, or sweater could be added to the existing uniform.

Colours and designs of uniforms seem to be so monotonous and dull. India is a country of vibrant colours and unique fabric designs, yet we find our school uniforms mostly drab and boring. Checks, stripes or plain dull colours are commonly used for uniforms. Each region in India boasts of beautiful fabrics and designs such as Ikat (also commonly called Pochampally), Bandini, tie and dye, chungudi (of Madurai), chettinad, etc. These can be creatively used to design fabrics. It will provide the much needed revival of traditional weaves. While choosing colours, why are just blues and whites used? Younger children, especially in the primary sections need to wear bright and cheerful colours.

Styling of the uniform also needs to be weather appropriate and functional. While some rural schools have salwar/pyjama kurtas, paavadais/lehengas, predominantly we find pinafores, short skirts, and collared shirts! Simple round necks, skirts/shorts/pants, or salwar/pyjama kurtas may be more appropriate. Collared shirts maybe necessary in hill stations and other colder regions. Pinafores can be extremely uncomfortable in warm climates.

The author is a remedial therapist and teacher trainer, Ananda Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected].

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