Tuesday, January 3, 2012

School uniforms in developing countries: An unnecessary evil? - Hypothesis

There are charities helping families in developing countries to buy school uniforms for their children so that they can attend school. This is a good thing, right? Which part? The part about charities helping families in developing countries or the part where this is even a problem? If what I consider to be an arbitrary policy is preventing impoverished children from getting a primary education, this is a great injustice.

Testing this with a few friends, I have concluded that this quite possibly is the case, and I also received some stark warnings about the social, cultural, and psychological dimensions to school uniforms. These warnings are certainly valid, but many great in justices in this world have been toppled that were held up by social, cultural, and psychological factors. The question is, how big is the problem, how big are the barriers, and are our efforts best placed elsewhere?

It occurred to me that this is an opportunity to try out some strategic modelling and analysis, something that I do often in my current work. I have already completed the first step of forming a hypothesis and testing with a few peers. To pursue the problem further I would take the following steps:
  1. Form a hypothesis:
      The unnecessary requirement for school uniforms in developing countries puts undue financial stress on families already struggling to afford basic necessities and/or tuition, and potentially even excludes some children from attendance.
  2. Test hypothesis at a high level
      Gather whatever evidence is at hand or easily available to sense-check and/or refine the hypothesis. Might the hypothesis be true? Is it likely enough to be true enough to warrant further investigation?
  3. Estimate the magnitude of the problem/scale of the potential benefits from taking action
      This will be much like a top-down strategic business case. The key focus will be "What if we could achieve a change?" without yet talking specifically about what actions would be required. Like the previous step, this is another gate we have to pass where we must be certain it is worthwhile proceeding. The output can also be an important number socially, as $x million lost per year or y thousand children excluded from primary education worldwide can be a useful catalyst for change as it is shared and repeated.
  4. Develop a portfolio of initiatives
      Preferably in a brainstorming/facilitated workshop environment, work with stakeholders and subject matter experts to generate potential initiatives or interventions to address the problem.
  5. Prioritize initiatives
      Estimate costs, benefits, and risks of each initiative and then build an action plan, selecting the highest benefit set of activities that fit within your budget or capacity while managing/minimizing risk. This is a classic Operations Research portfolio optimization knapsack problem, though in practice, problem sizes are small mathematics are rarely used.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

One question that springs to mind is "would the lack of a school uniform bar a child from attending a school?" What is the policy on this and what happens in practice?

An alternate view I'd like to raise (and I admit to not having researched the issue but I do come from a country where school uniforms are common and was in receipt of a "free school uniform" as a kid) is that the provision of the uniform is a way of providing an item of clothing to a child from a family that is less well off. The link to school provides less social stigma of handouts and also the added bonus of promoting education.

Dawen said...

A simple search on the internet doesn't turn out much in terms of answering the first comment's question: "would the lack of a school uniform bar a child from attending a school?".

According to these guys, school uniforms are compulsory in South Africa.(www.southafrica.info/services/education/edufacts.htm#21)

According to these guys, the lack of means to buy school uniforms are one of the reasons why students in Ghana drop out of school. There is supposed to be government help for those who cannot afford uniforms, but in practice not everyone gets it.
http://www.kabissa.org/blog/free-school-uniforms-every-school-child-ghana-government-initiative

I wonder if the alternate view (that school uniforms remove social stigma) applies as much to the developing countries as it does to the developed countries. However, it just doesn't feel right that a mere uniform would stop poor children from going to school.

Aleksey Nozdryn-Plotnicki said...

I'm glad someone is interested! Please see my next post on the topic: http://www.thinkor.org/2012/01/school-uniforms-in-developing-countries_03.html

Harsh Garg said...
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