Moja Tu

Blending In: School Uniforms

Whether private or public, primary or secondary, schools across Kenya require their students to have a uniform to attend class. Having a uniform goes a long way in contributing to a student’s sense of belonging to their school’s community. Unfortunately, it is often very difficult for students in impoverished areas to acquire their uniforms, and they are therefore not allowed to attend school.

Generally, a school uniform includes the following, with colors matching the school’s colors:

  • Primary girls: A long dress, a sweater, a pair of socks, a blouse and a pair of shoes.
  • Primary boys: A pair of long pants, a shirt, a sweater, a pair of socks and a pair of shoes.
  • Secondary girls: A skirt, a blouse, a sweater and tie, a pair of socks, and a pair of black leather shoes.
  • Secondary boys: Long pants, a shirt, a sweater, a tie, a pair of socks, and a pair of black leather shoes.

Most schools, in an effort to avoid a mismatched-looking student body, often supply the students’ uniforms themselves. Schools contact suppliers directly, ordering uniforms made from heavier material in order to ensure that they last longer. The schools then add the extra charge to the school fees. This may make for a better looking student body, but it also increases the total cost of going to school. If the parents can’t pay their child’s tuition bill in full, then the child will not be able to attend school.

If a student does have a uniform, it’s most likely a hand-me-down from an older sibling, faded and stretched from years of use. It’s a common sight in rural areas to see children with patched uniforms. Most schools in such areas will also not turn away students without shoes or socks, so you will often see barefooted students walking around their schools. Students clean their uniforms every evening.

There are several advantages to having a uniform. Uniforms are extremely helpful in making a student feel like a valuable member of their school. They also make it impossible to distinguish a student’s socioeconomic status, all but eliminating a barrier that would otherwise prevent students from interacting with each other.

Aside from building the sense community in school, uniforms provide several benefits to students in the public sphere. Transportation systems in urban areas will often give students discounts for their services, and wearing a uniform ensures that students on their way to school reap the full benefits of these discounts. Students in uniform are also prohibited from entering certain entertainment joints, as well as from attending day labor jobs. In this way, wearing a uniform ensures that a student will make it to class and stay in school. The easily distinguishable uniform also alerts police officers to a student’s presence, encouraging them to keep a close eye to make sure students are not taken advantage of on their commute to and from school.

Though they can be costly and difficult to attain, uniforms do a lot of good in terms of making a school feel like a close community for its students. The uniform makes students indistinguishable from each other, erasing the divide between students from wealthier families and students from poorer families. Uniforms also provide students with safe passage to and from school, and encourage them to stay in school.

Gabi