06/09/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 06/09/2017 03:58 SAST

Skinny Pants? I Think Not, Says Spokesperson For The Minister Of Basic Education

One thing's for certain -- school uniforms are not intended to be fashionable.

The Citizen

This issue of learners at a Pretoria school protesting to wear "skinny pants" as part of their school uniform has brought the issue of uniforms and dress code sharply into the spot light once again.

One thing that is for certain is that school uniforms are not intended to be fashionable. I remember when I was in high school, and for the first time girls were allowed to wear the straight grey slacks as part of the winter uniform. While we loved not having to freeze or jostle with never cooperating stockings, we too were not so thrilled about the boring style of the pants ourselves.

In my time as a teenage girl it was all about, as low as possible waist lines and of course, boot legs were the preferable cut of the day. The straight up and down slacks that sat on or above the belly button was horrific by style standards at the time.

However, that's the point, isn't it? Uniforms cannot be expected to keep up with fashion trends, or every few years schools will be changing uniforms to keep them in line with the latest trends and parents will be forced to fork out for new uniforms. Hand me down items between siblings will be a thing of the past.

Learners need to understand that they are not in school to make a fashion statement [I'm sounding like my parents] they are there to learn. The point of a school uniform is to create an environment where everyone is the same, you are not distinguished by the clothes you wear but by the work you do, by your attitude and aptitude.

There is definitely a correlation between discipline and learners who wear their uniform with pride.

Uniforms should be designed in a way that they do not become a distraction from the everyday work of the school. Learners should look smart in the uniform and it must represent the unity of the school. The uniform also brings discipline as the learners have to keep the uniform up to the norms of the school.

I must be honest I've always been one of those who holds liberal views on a number of topics and would probably have been the first to comment something along the lines of, but what does a school uniform have to do with anything, especially discipline or academic achievement.

However having worked in the education sector for a number of years now and having visited hundreds if not thousands of schools around the country I've been able to adjust my views in this regard. There is definitely a correlation between discipline and learners who wear their uniform with pride.

When you walk into a school and see learners with their shirt untucked or their tie loose and skew, or a skirt rolled up. Those are the same schools where learners don't greet you in the corridors and have a school ground awash with litter and cigarette stomped. I've spoken to teachers who share the same view that the uniform is a measure to instil discipline and pride in one's appearance and school.

School uniforms are an equalizer in a school environment, they are part of a package in place aimed at bringing discipline but also to promote equality by making sure all learners look the same irrespective of their economic situations. Uniforms must not be viewed with suspicion but should be embraced as part of the school environment.

After the hair issues of last year, it became clear that there were issues with the codes of conducts and rules in some schools. Schools were asked to review these codes of conducts to ensure that they did not discriminate on any learners and were in line with the Constitution. This is a process that is still ongoing.

These decisions are based on democratic principles that take into consideration organised input from learners and parents.

The National Department of Basic Education has developed a guide for Codes of Conduct and it is clear that no one can be discriminated against, however, it still leaves room for schools to imprint their own school ethos and how they want the ideal learner of school X to look.

These decisions are based on democratic principles that take into consideration organised input from learners and parents through the relevant, legitimate structures specifically set up to deal with these kinds of issues.

One thing that learners at the Pretoria West high school must remember is that fashion changes and had they been successful in actually getting their skinny pants as part of the uniform, I am pretty sure generations to come would come to resent the class of 2017 who imposed "unfashionable" skinny pants on their school.

As I am sure my little sister is relieved she never had to wear bootleg hipsters when she attended the same high school I went to 10 years later.