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To uniform or not to uniform - that is the question

The school uniform debate usually rears its head round about this time of the year.  As parents, we've been through the stocking up on new gear routine for years, and I bet you, you felt it in your pocket. We asked two JacarandaFM News moms, to write about their experiences.

Gerda de Sousa:

Gerda de Sousa

There was a time when I told my son I wanted to put a brick on his head because I lovingly didn't want him to grow older.


Now I want that same brick because I don't want him to get bigger. No fast growing arms, longer legs, a bigger head, feet, chest or broader shoulders. Simply because any of these changes mean another trip to the school uniform shop! And that is a bill that leaves my wallet empty.


When you register your child in a school, one of the first written notices you receive deals with school clothes - the location of the uniform shop, it's operating hours and what you need to get your child going. The first step over that threshold is an emotional one. The first photos "so cute in his new outfit". 


That's about where the euphoria ends.


Soon, reality sets in, when the sport shorts, tracksuits, cricket gear, blazer, hat and swimming pants are all added…

All of a sudden your fondness for the shop assistant becomes the equivalent of that of seeing the dentist assistant. 


They both have something in common though - that financial drain on your pocket. 


A crown does however last longer than a full school winter wardrobe for an 11-year old ....


That's ONE winter wardrobe because trust me, your child will grow…fast. 


It doesn't matter how well you plan ahead to avoid the queue at the shop in January - the experience will be lasting..


The parents pitch up with the same gripe: "Two hundred rand for a white summer shirt with a badge on! I could have bought two summer shorts for that price! And I need three shirts!"


Another angry father: "Now I'm forking out R150 for a hat cause he lost his at the end of the year. He's going to lose this one as well!" 


Don't forget about: "R285 for a cricket cap cause if you're in the team, you just have to have it." 


The one I know best is echoed by a mother behind me in the slow moving uniform shop queue: "Feels like I'm tossing R200 down the drain. These white golf shirts are only going to stay white for the first month. Nothing I can do about it."


You can't stop your child's growth. You can't prevent the black permanent markers on the white shirt and you can't glue the hat to his skull. 


I listen and feel helpless. We have nowhere else to go. The idea of a uniform is a great one. I'm all for it. It creates that sense of pride and unity. 


But I still can't shake that daylight robbery feeling. 


Yes, I signed up for it, and yes this is what happens to many parents, but does it have to be this painful? 


I for instance have seen similar blazers to the ones at my son's school, in a big retail store- at half the price - just minus the school badge. 


And really - can white shirts not be bought at any reputable store?


For all the bad news in 2016, the highlight was the announcement that the Competition Commission had launched an investigation into school uniform prices after receiving complaints from parents.


We're all feeling the pinch, we are in this together. 


Here's hoping 2017 brings some good news. 


Otherwise I guess I will see you in the queue again in a couple of months. 

Dianne Broodryk

Dianne Broodryk:


As a mother of a 14-year old daughter, I vote a solid, thankful: YES.   


My reasons for standing by the uniform are the same as most other supporters: uniformity, neatness, discipline, belonging, less peer-pressure, more harmony.  


The website of one of the largest suppliers of school uniforms in the country sums it up beautifully: "Wearing school uniforms frees young children and teenagers from the need to compete to gain recognition among their peers. In fact, when a school uniform is worn with pride, a positive sort of peer pressure may lead an entire student community to greater heights of achievement." (Allwear Clothing allwear.co.za) ...... and then they hit you with the cost.  


School uniforms are ridiculously expensive.


Last year was an especially expensive outing: high school.


Brand new dresses and blouses, blazer, sportswear and shoes amounted to a small fortune!


Again for winter: different dresses, long-sleeved shirts, a tie and stockings.


Ridiculous!

 

Still, I stand by the uniform.


But I think change is needed on the supply side of things. 


Price regulation and quality standards would go a long way in assisting parents.


I spoke to a wholesale supplier who confirmed that retailers add at least 100% to the cost.


School uniforms, like any thing else to do with the good of our children, are good business: all school-going children need them, seasonally, for 12 years.  

 

As parents, we should not be surprised. Parents are exploited from before the baby is born to buy and do the best. To put it bluntly: The need to invest in our child's future is born out of fear that we're not good enough parents. 


So we spend what we can to soothe the sense of guilt that ignites when the umbilical cord is cut. Retailers know this.

 

Still, I stand by the uniform.

Expense should not be the reason to kill-off  the school uniform. If cost is the major reason for detractors to hate on the uniform, the powers that be should use this and come up with a solution.  

 

For the first eight years of her schooling career, my daughter needed brand new summer and winter uniforms - every year.  

Children grow.


In desperate times, I dipped into the school clothing bank for neat, second hand items at a fraction of the price.   

 

Still, I stand by the uniform.


Unlike with other clothing-shopping-excursions, there are no fights when we buy school uniforms, because there is no choice. 


No walking from shop to shop. No competition. No judgement. No tears or never-endings fittings in cubicles. No choices to be made.  


We buy what's needed and move on.


The uniforms are wash-and-wear (tumble dryer friendly) and  easy to iron.


And, I can budget.

 

My dedication to the uniform has paid off this year.


I spent a total of R124.34 on it - bargain!  


That was the cost to have my daughter's blazer dry-cleaned and two buttons replaced - that's it.


She simply didn't grow much - in fact she lost some weight and everything still fits and looks neat - even the shoes.

 

She's a teenager now and clothes shopping has become a new kind of crazy. 


Image is important so clothes have become outfits, needing the right hair,  shoes and accessories to be on-fleek. 

But, not for the 230-odd days of school.  


On those days, there is no choice, expression, style or judgement needed.


On those days the playing field is level and the book is not judged by it's cover: it's just the backdrop for individual and collective growth.

 

Another reason I stand by the school uniform! 



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