We recently published a reader's letter in which a frustrated parent complained about having to pay ridiculous prices for her child's school uniform. "My son is a Grade 1 student, and his tracksuit – only his tracksuit which he has to wear for winter – costs R275 for the pants and R450 for the jacket = R725." What makes matters worse, she says, is that because he is constantly growing, he will most likely only wear that tracksuit for this year. And that's just his tracksuit.
"What is going to be done to help the general public with this issue?" she asked.
- Read the full letter here: OPINION: "We are forced to buy school uniforms that are too expensive for our children to only wear for a year"
This question constantly comes up and we understand why – paying close to R2 000 to complete your child's uniform, only for you to then do the same for their winter wardrobe, is completely unreasonable and many people simply cannot afford to do so. So in an attempt to find some sort of solution, we asked our readers how they felt about the cost of school uniforms and what they thought could be done about the issue. Here's what they said:
"It hurts the pocket"
Wendy Rode comments that there's a new trend in primary schools to "have to travel all over the country or even overseas to play sports! So if your child loves sports, plays in the teams, and you can't afford it, what do you do? It's totally stressful for the kids too!"
She continues, "Then it's stationery as well; the best is paying for extra lessons because let's face it, generally speaking, how many teachers are willing to sit one-on-one for free after school? It's not going to end."
Unsympathetic teachers and thieving parents
Margaret says it's ridiculous that exceptions can't be made. If her child lost their school-issued scarf and takes a scarf of a similar colour to school to keep warm, she'd be told to take it off "by a teacher who is wrapped up and covered top to toe in the latest fashion colours. Surely there are times an exception can be made?" She jokes, "Maybe teachers should also wear uniforms?
"Another big problem is that, even if school clothes are marked with the child's name but is lost at school, there are parents who do not care if their child comes home with a uniform item that does not belong to them."
Another parent wrote in saying the cost increases if you have more than one child:
"I agree with the parents about the ridiculous prices for uniforms. In my case my sons' school uniforms are only stocked at two local shops. There's not much competition and it's expensive. When kids lose their uniforms at school they have to pay R5 for the item at lost property. South African parents are put under constant financial strain as we buy uniforms every year for a child. And when it's two or three children in school, it's double or triple the amount."
Terrible quality, and only one supplier
Natalie wrote in that if parents are going to have to spend so much money, the uniforms should at least be worth it and not rip and tear:
"School uniforms are just too expensive. The school my son goes to has a uniform shop, where the uniform is expensive but not of good quality. The problem also lies in the fact that we can only buy the uniform from the school, there are no other suppliers in our town.
"My son started at the school last year and I had to buy his uniform. This is his second year at school and I have to buy the winter uniform again. The zips on the tracksuits are broken, and the tracksuit pants are torn. I bought sport socks and they tore after one wash. Don't get me started on the quality of the school shoes.
"The uniform is not a once-off cost, we find ourselves having to buy uniforms every once in a while. If you want to charge high prices for a uniform, then at least make sure that the quality is good."
- Also read: The school uniform cost debacle
Here are some solutions
1. "Should they be allowed to wear civvies?"
Marisa says, "I can guarantee you that if they don't wear a uniform you will fork out much more money for clothes in the long run.
"Add to that the competition between scholars/pupils/students with regard to brand names and everything else concerning clothes. The result will be unhappy/humiliated/outcasted kids because of their clothes. Clique-forming will become commonplace. Your clothes will decide your social standing. And nothing of this has anything to do with education other than it teaches kids that the feathers make the bird. So just buy that uniform."
2. "Start a uniform share program"
Jeetesh says, "Let kids dress in their home casual wear and provide every student with a biometric student card, or start a uniform share program."
He explains that at the end of each year, "Each class donates their uniform at the end of the year to others less fortunate".
We guess this would work throughout the year, at the end of a season or just generally after a growth spurt.
3. "There is no shame in wearing hand-me-downs"
Tracey wrote and explained there's nothing wrong with going the second-hand and hand-me-down route:
"Uniforms undoubtedly are expensive. I have always bought uniforms from the school thrift shop a size or so too large so you can get more than one season out of them. There is no shame in this. We all know kids grow fast so parents – make a plan! If you have more than one child at the school, the younger one(s) must wear hand-me-downs. There is no shame in that either. I have a laat lammetjie and I kept all her sister's uniforms from 10 years ago and she's wearing those! I saved a fortune by being careful.
"As far as possible, buy things second-hand, get giveaways or generic items. When I was at school my granny knitted our socks, my mother sewed our uniforms herself or bought them second-hand. I am proud of this and so should the new generation be. Teach good values, not a culture of consumerism!"
4. "Agree upon standardised uniforms"
Linda suggests we "let everyone buy grey pants/skirts and white shirts and schools can individualise with ties, badges and hats etc. That will then identify everyone with grey pants/skirts and white shirts as school children and no-one will be looked down upon if he/she is from a poorer school than the next kids, because they all look the same."
Sophie explains how they do things in the UK saying, "The schools have agreed set uniforms and a child can be dressed with uniforms available in the local supermarkets, with only a few items like a badge and tie available only at the school. Someone worked out that a state primary school child could be dressed in all the school uniform for only £8 = R132 for the year! Don't know how accurate that is and don't think it includes shoes. But standardised uniforms can be agreed upon and cheaper manufacturers can make it."
5. "We need more suppliers to drive down the cost"
How do you feel about the prices of school uniforms? What do you think can and should be done about it? Tell us by emailing your responses to email@example.com and we might publish it on the site. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.
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