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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 May 2006, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
School uniform row grips Germany
German pupils. File photo
German pupils do not have to conform to a dress code
A heated debate has broken out in Germany over whether uniforms should be made compulsory in schools.

It was triggered by a recent suspension of two Muslim girls who arrived at a Bonn school dressed in burkas.

Germany's justice minister has said uniforms would be "a simple solution", but her proposal has been rejected by the teachers' union.

School uniforms are still associated by some in Germany with the Nazi era and especially the Hitler Youth.

Critics argue that school uniforms suppress individualism and are typical of authoritarian regimes such as the Third Reich.

'Unrealistic'

The debate started after the suspension of the two 18-year-old Muslim girls for wearing burkas, or long veils covering them from head to toe.

It is completely unrealistic to believe that a school uniform can resolve integration problems or can combat fashion obsessions
Heinz-Peter Meidinger
German teachers' union

The school in Bonn acted after regarding their actions as an attempt to make a political statement.

Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said on Sunday that compulsory introduction of uniforms across Germany would help prevent any conflicts arising from religious or social differences.

"All school pupils should wear the same school uniform," Ms Zypries told Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

"That way we would resolve not only the burka issue, but also the problems that arise from social differences," the minister added.

Her call has been backed by German Education Minister Annette Schavan.

But the teachers' union voiced its opposition to the proposal.

"It is completely unrealistic to believe that a school uniform can resolve integration problems or can combat fashion obsessions," the union's chairman Heinz-Peter Meidinger told Germany's Die Tageszeitung newspaper.

Mr Meidinger also said that historically the school uniform issue in Germany was not free of controversy.

Unlike in Britain, the image of uniformed youths in the Nazi era led to a well-founded rejection of school uniforms in post-war Germany, he said.

Experiments

A few German schools have tried introducing uniforms to test the public mood.

One such experiment took place in 2003 at Herkenrath school in Bergisch Gladbach, near Cologne in North Rhine-Westphalia.

"It was a complete success," schoolteacher Monika Thilo told Germany's ZDF television.

"Nobody was ridiculed," she said, adding that the whole school had wanted to adopt the uniform and a sponsor had been found to provide the clothes.

"But the district authority had to reject this request on legal grounds," she said.




SEE ALSO:
France stands firm on scarf ban
08 Jul 04 |  Europe
Headscarves in the headlines
10 Feb 04 |  Europe


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