Why do some schools not have uniforms?


School uniforms have a difficult time in Switzerland. This is primarily due to historical reasons. But the topic comes up again and again, and both students and experts see advantages.

This content was published on January 6, 2020 - 1:00 p.m.

One look at any Swiss break point is enough to determine: Swiss schoolchildren are not wearing uniforms. Instead, jeans, hoodies and sneakers are the preferred choice of clothes.

The exception are some private elite schools, for example the Lemania-Verbier International SchoolExterner Link in Verbier, where the Danish royalsExterner Link Frederick and Mary recently enrolled their children. The dress code there is: gray trousers and a white polo shirt.

In the public schools there are no unforms. Nevertheless, the topic appears regularly on the political agenda. In the spring of 2019, for example, the Cantonal Parliament of Valais rejected a MotionExterner Link calling for school uniforms to be worn in public schools in Valais. The reason was: It was "a step backwards" and the students were already subject to certain dress rules.

No precedent in Switzerland

"School uniforms are mainly common in the Anglo-Saxon region, former British colonies and Asian countries," says Beat A. Schwendimann, board member of the umbrella association for teachers in Switzerland (LCHExterner Link). "That never happened in Switzerland, which is why there is no precedent."

School uniforms have their roots in the military and have been used as an expression of egalitarian ideals since the 19th century. In private schools they are used as a differentiator from public schools.

"These ideas do not fit into a modern, public education system in a democratic and pluralistic society," says Schwendimann. The French-speaking counterpart of the LCH, the Syndicat des Enseignants Romands (SERExterner Link), also rejects school uniforms.

But what about the peer pressure to have to wear fashionable designer clothes at Swiss break areas? Or about the problem of skimpy outfits or sweaters with inappropriate slogans? Couldn't uniforms help to reduce "divisions and social differences", as it is called in the Walliser Motion?

The LCH writes in a position paper that the positive effects are too uncertain and the impairment of personal freedom too great. Not only in Valais, but throughout Switzerland, numerous schools deal with the issue internally with dress codes. Headscarves, for example, are allowed according to a ruling by the Federal Supreme Court External Link.

Measure against "sexualization"

And yet the topic of uniforms flares up from time to time. Around 2006 in the canton of Basel. At that time, the Basler Weiterbildungsschule (WBS) tested the wearing of "trendy" uniforms in two classes. "It was a time when young people's choice of clothes was highly sexualized," remembers Christian Griss, former WBS director and currently head of services at the Basel-Stadt Education Department.

"Many wore thongs, crop tops and tops with a large V-neckline," says Griss. "That caused problems, especially among students from other cultures, but also among teachers. It was a hindrance when looking for an apprenticeship and also caused money problems for some students."

The school suggested a uniform for their experiment, which consisted of cargo pants, hooded tops and hats and was designed by a local fashion designer. The cloakroom cost around 730 francs, of which the parents had to shell out around 100 francs.

Pilot experiment sparked debate

However, the pilot project was discontinued after six months. The main reason, in addition to the lack of support from the cantonal education authorities, was the young people themselves, Griss wrote in an email: The uniform was not classic enough for them. "A school uniform like in England might have met with more acceptance, but in the end the youngsters just wanted to wear their style and be perceived that way."

Part of the experiment was an external study by the Psychological Institute of the University of Basel on the effects on everyday school life and the behavior of students. This came to the conclusion that there were hardly any differences compared to the control classes, for example with regard to the class atmosphere.

However, the authors also stated in their report that changes were not to be expected due to the short time frame. Nevertheless, the project was a success: It sparked a debate among students and parents as well as the general public: about clothing regulations in general, consumer behavior and printing, designer brands and trendy clothes.

Mixed impressions in Ireland

A Swiss-Irish family has experience with both systems - with and without a uniform. The children of the author Clare O’Dea, who also wrote External Link for swissinfo.ch, spent two semesters in an Irish elementary school. The three girls had to get used to wearing a gray kilt, a white shirt and a blue cardigan. Their judgment was mixed.

"I usually never wear a skirt, but I didn't mind at school because everyone else wore one," says 13-year-old Ciara. "It was very practical because I knew what to wear every morning." Her twin sister was less enthusiastic: "I think it's better without a uniform so everyone can wear what they want," says Maeve.

The weather was a problem for her younger sister Ashley: The uniform was not warm enough on cold days and often too hot on hot days, she says. For her mother Clare, the uniform had several advantages: "The preparation time each morning was greatly reduced because it was clear what to wear.

The uniforms were expensive - luckily we could buy them second-hand, "she reports. They were also quite old-fashioned -" which I personally liked very much ".

School uniforms worldwide

Sometimes with, sometimes without

School uniforms are a tradition in countries such as Great Britain, Ireland, India, Australia and Cyprus. In the United States, they are common in private schools, but not in state schools. Japan also has school uniforms, as does China. In several Arab countries, the school wardrobe is also uniform. In Tunisia, for example, uniforms are strictly enforced. In Spain they are only intended for private schools. Uniforms are worn in public schools in Latin and South America, such as Brazil. They no longer exist in modern Russia: the practice was abolished in 1994, except in a few private or prestigious public schools.

(Source: swissinfo.ch language editors)

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