Debate heats up over school uniform requirement

Debate heats up over school uniform requirement

Removing the school uniform requirement has been on the agenda for a long time. But after heated debates, the Ministry of Education this week issued a statement in which it said the elimination of the requirement may not be implemented during the next school year.

May 30, 2010, Sunday/ 11:22:00/ AYŞE KARABAT
The possible elimination of the school uniform requirement has led to fierce debates between the Ministry of Education and school uniform producers, who earn TL 5 billion in sales every year, but only a few experts have raised the meaning of the “school uniform.”The discussion started when the Ministry of Education ran an online poll over whether students should be able to dress as they please in schools, with support running high for the abolishment of school uniforms. But producers of school uniforms are not pleased at the prospect of a change in the regulations and protested the ministry’s decision through newspaper announcements. The debate has since moved to Parliament, too.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Giresun deputy Murat Özkan, in a speech he gave at Parliament, claimed that the removal of the requirement will have negative social, economic and pedagogical consequences. “In an environment where there are huge income disparities between social classes, the difference between rich and poor will become more obvious. The removal of the requirement will lead to a decrease in the quality of education and to disciplinary problems,” he said, adding that producers, who employ 1 million people, have TL 3 billion worth of school uniforms in stock.

İsrafil Uçurum, chairman of the Adana Hacı Sabancı Organized Industry Region (AOSB), said he hopes the school uniform requirement stays in place. “But if the ministry insists on abolishing the requirement, it should institute a three-year transition period during which we can phase out the uniforms we have in stock,” he said.

Konya Textile Industry Businessmen Association (KOTİAD) Chairman Bekir Dikici voiced a similar approach. He said there are many firms in Konya that only produce school uniforms and that if the requirement is abolished, it will be impossible for these firms to sell the uniforms they have already produced. “Removing the requirement would mean that already produced uniforms will go to waste. This means many companies will be closed. It will also lead to increased unemployment and decreased added value,” Dikici claimed. He also suggested that not regulating clothing in schools will accentuate status differences among students, leading to students developing psychological problems.

But according to psychiatrist Selçuk Candansayar, the chairman of the Individual and Social Mental Health Association (BTRSD), the students will be happy if the uniform requirement is abolished. “If the students are free to choose their clothing, after some time students who exaggerate in their clothes will be excluded from their peer groups. If you set individuals in a group free, group norms will be implemented, anyway,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.

He underlined that two dimensions of requiring school uniforms lie at the base of the founding ideology of the republic. In explaining this, he said: “First, the declared aim of the republic was to create a classless, privilege-free society. This was the motto of the republic. But those kinds of requirements are also militaristic in nature and perpetually reminiscent of a hierarchy.”

He also noted that there are many private schools in Turkey and that each of them applies its own dress code and uniform, which has led to the emergence of a huge market. In fact, it has started to become more expensive for parents to buy these uniforms than to send their children to school in regular clothing.

“Each school having a different dress code in effect removes the main purpose of creating classless students. So the only thing that remains is stressing militarism and hierarchy,” he said, adding that the removal of the uniform requirement will have a symbolic meaning for Turkey: It will be an indication of its modernization.

Zübeyde Kılıç, from the Education Personnel Union (Eğitim-Sen), underlined that clothing is an important element in the cognitive development of children and that school clothing should not differ from the daily clothes the children wear.

“To require children to wear one type of clothing, one color, means restricting their development. It is important that children come to school in comfortable clothing that will make their participation in class easier,” she told Sunday’s Zaman.

Removing the school uniform requirement has been on the agenda for a long time. But after heated debates, the Ministry of Education this week issued a statement in which it said the elimination of the requirement may not be implemented during the next school year.

Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu said that if the ministry decides to implement a free clothing code, it will work on it next year and, upon reaching a decision, inform the public.

Çubukçu added that the Ministry of Education is considering many problems affecting the education system and that clothing is just one of them. “A decision to change a requirement that affects 16 million students cannot be made in one day. We continue to work on the subject and are gathering the opinions of academics and relevant organizations but also -- and for the first time -- the opinions of parents and students,” she said.

Emre Öztürk, from the Student Youth Union (Genç-Sen), told Sunday’s Zaman that pants, a skirt and a shirt will solve the problem and that schools should be saved from being like military bases. “The uniforms are a reflection of a militarist mentality; we are against that. But we believe this uniform problem should have been left behind many years ago. The adults, instead of dealing with what we wear in school, should concern themselves about our future and the high unemployment that awaits us after we graduate from these schools regardless of what we wear in them.”

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