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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September, 2003, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Kenyan children split on uniforms
Alice Muthengi
BBC Africa Live, Nairobi

In Kenya, it is not unusual for secondary school students to go on the rampage for something as flimsy as their school uniform. Often the problem is how long or short the uniform should be.

Kenyan student, Ben Mwangi
Ben is in favour of casual wear

Last year more than 50 secondary schools were temporarily closed following a wave of riots that hit schools across the country.

Among the demands by some of the boy's schools were that pupils be allowed to wear long trousers.

It is a rule in most public primary schools that boys wear shorts while girls wear dress tunics.

Until recently, it was normal to see secondary school boys in shorts. Trousers were reserved for senior students.

VOTE
Should children in school have a uniform?
Yes
No
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion
Junior students only got to wear trousers during special occasions such as visiting days.

This practice, it was argued, helped teachers to separate senior students from their juniors at school.

Fashionable skirts

Frequent demonstrations by schoolboys demanding to be allowed to wear trousers made head teachers rethink the tradition which many institutions carried over from colonial days.

For girls on the other hand, high school means shedding the dress for more fashionable skirts.

Joan Mwangi a teacher at a girls secondary school in Ruiru, a suburb of Nairobi, says girls are less picky about their uniforms than boys.

Uniforms make students feel the same despite the material affiliations of their families
John, Nairobi

''Often girls just want to be naughty, they want to be allowed to wear shorter and tighter skirts or to have slits,'' says Joan.

Hayat Hussein sat for her final secondary school examinations last year. She believes school uniform enhances equality among students.

''You know people come from different backgrounds, some are rich while others are poor. Can you imagine a situation where some come in trendy clothes and if you are from a poor family and cannot afford fashionable clothes, it would be bad.''

Children queuing outside school
Queuing for free education, but how much is the uniform?

Parents too agree that the uniform should stay. "It would be a total disaster to discard the uniform, it would be like giving those young boys and girls a licence to misbehave," says Patrick Nyaga, a banker who has a daughter in high school.

''The uniform reigns them in, it instils discipline in them because they know they have limits. Without uniform they would lose their heads.''

Misbehaving

But Ben Mwangi, a form three pupil at Highway Secondary School in Nairobi, says it is time schools considered casual wear.

''Nobody ever consulted students to find out what sort of uniform they would like, people argue that it helps discipline us, I believe discipline is in the mind not the uniform.''

While it is unusual to find uniformed students misbehaving openly, there have been cases of students bribing their way into social places such as night clubs and bars.

Some students may grumble about donning their school uniform but there is a groundswell consensus here that the uniform is still a badge of pride.



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