NEWS | Sunday, 26 August 2007

Are school uniforms in Malta outdated?

Bianca Caruana

Some students having to wear school uniforms may feel as though they are not able to show their true personalities. Others may think it would be better if they were allowed to wear their own choice of clothes and be allowed to shine in their own way.
How important is fashion in the portraying of one’s personality or individuality?
Children are exposed to brand names ranging from Barbie to Bob the Builder from a very young age, and all want their items to carry these names. As they grow older, adolescents look to brands such as Gap, Diesel and so forth. This can become a burden on parents who, whilst trying to keep their children happy, are struggling to pay bills and sustain their family.
Children and adolescents find themselves in constant competition with their friends to show they have the right clothing and materialistic items, and can “fit in” with the group.
In Maltese schools, school uniforms are, more often than not, one of the requirements for students to attend. It is a way of projecting the identity of the school yet tends to be seen in a negative light by some students, especially if they do not want to be identified with the school. However, school uniforms can also be seen as a way of keeping social class and domestic difficulties hidden from the scrutinising eyes of the children and staff in schools as one mother seems to agree by saying, “I think uniforms tend to maintain certain uniformity where class and background do not show up. This is something, which would become very evident once uniforms were to be removed.”
It is a way of saving students and parents’ time in the morning from having to choose what they are to wear every day. Furthermore, parents find this to be a somewhat cheaper alternative to purchasing a new wardrobe for school although a uniform does cost approximately Lm100 per child and the Education Division in collaboration with the school council, attempts to ensure that the cost of uniforms is kept at a minimum.
“As they grow older the pressure for nice clothes and fashionable stuff increases and so it also becomes very expensive trying to keep up with the constant changes in the fashion world.” This was said by a mother who finds the uniform to be a way of sustaining equality and keeping those nagging feelings of self-image at bay. She added, “I think uniforms help in discipline too, as there are certain factors like hairstyles and other things which teenagers start experimenting with that can be controlled better if there is a uniform.”
Purchasing a uniform may seem pricey and parents should remember that two of almost every item must be bought to keep up with regular wearing and so on, whilst also considering seasonal uniforms and tracksuits for physical education classes.
According to Claude Sciberras from the Education Division, complaints on the prices of uniforms usually originate from parents of students proceeding to Form 1. Sciberras says, “There are obviously the genuine complaints, especially when a family has financial limitations. However when one considers the options, uniforms do prove to be the cheaper alternative to wearing different clothes on a daily basis. This also avoids certain associated problems such as bullying or lack of confidence.”
Parents who cannot afford ready-made uniforms have the option of sewing the uniforms themselves but must remember to always follow the regulations set by the school. Complaints seem to have arisen regarding the cost of the materials needed. Specific material must be used to avoid different versions of the same uniform, however the price reflects the quality of the material allowing the uniforms to be repeatedly worn and last longer.
As regards to the frequency of changes in school uniforms, the division monitors alterations ensuring that there are no unnecessary changes.
On the matter of hairstyles and accessories being sported with the uniforms, Dr Andrew Azzopardi, from the Faculty of Education stated, “The restrictions inflicted on hairstyles and jewellery, for example, have become somewhat outdated unless it poses a risk to the student’s safety. If safety were the case, then yes, I agree to certain rules to be followed, but I also feel that sensitivity towards the students’ background and ethnicity should be taken into account.”
The Junior College in Malta suggested uniforms for the students in attendance, but the Students’ Council KSJC opposed this. They argued on the grounds that since Junior College is part of the University of Malta, they should not be made to wear a uniform.
The principal of Junior College, Godfrey Muscat said, “It is not to be excluded that the issue of official Junior college uniforms may crop up again.” He also included that T-shirts with the UOM emblem and the initials UJC printed on them were ordered and are for sale, but they not obligatory for students to wear.
Muscat was asked if any problems had ever occurred with students being allowed to wear their own choice of clothing. “Yes, females tend to wear short, skimpy, strapless tops, which leave parts of their backs, breasts and bellies exposed. Very often, when they are sitting down, even the lower part of their back is uncovered. Males wear vests with disgusting prints on them.” He went on to say that in both cases, when identified, students are sent home to change.
It may be possible that students are not being taught ways to project their individuality and personality without material acquisitions. The uniform may be seen as a way for students to express themselves in other ways but they must also be helped in this factor. Muscat stated that uniforms should not be considered as restricting students from expressing their individuality.
“There are a hundred and one ways in which students can do this,” he said. “One must understand the concept of control which is a concerning factor. The education system in Malta is based on control and knowledge. It feels very much like a work place model whereas in other countries, like for example America, students learn through experience rather than just books.”
Azzopardi went on to say, “It must be noted, however, that attempts are being made to change this stiff system to a less restricting one through changes to the school curriculum and uniforms to help students succeed”.


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