Tuesday, January 3, 2012

School uniforms in developing countries: An unnecessary evil? - High-level test

Earlier I wrote a post about the requirement for school uniforms in developing countries and how I saw this as a potentially offensive injustice. I completed the first step by forming my 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." Now I am looking to test that hypothesis quickly at a high level. I want to do some research to gain reasonable assurance that the hypothesis is correct before I might move on to establish the magnitude of the problem.

Schools for Africa is a UK Registered Charity mainly focused on building schools, but who also say: "£40 will buy 10 sets of primary school uniforms". To put this into perspective:
  • They also say: "£235 will buy 50 text books for the children to share". That's £4.70 per textbook vs. £4.00 per uniform.
  • £4 is about the same as an average day's wages in Ghana
  • £4 is about the same as an average week's wages in Ethiopia
  • I choose these countries as I visited them in 2011, but it is worth noting that Wikipedia reports school uniforms as required in Ghana
The folks at Project Ethiopia, an American 501(c)(3) have reportedly bought 1,695 school uniforms at $8 a piece. These uniforms are also said to last two years, so that's an annual cost of only $4. They make the relevant point that these uniforms are the only set of clothing for many, which would lower the additional burden of the uniform requirement on top of that for clothes. Note, however, that $8 is more than a week's wages as calculated above. Again for perspective:
  • They also claim to buy over library books for $3 a piece
  • They also claim to buy a years school supplies (5 exercise books, 1 pen, bar of soap) for $3
Gift Ethiopia, a UK Charity will provide an Ethiopian school uniform for £8, describing it as such:
Without a uniform, many children in Ethiopia are unable to attend school. Many families, especially larger ones, struggle to provide a uniform for all their children. These children are denied an education and the chance to socialise with children their own age. Your gift will provide a student with a brand new, full school uniform, ensuring they can take their place in the classroom with pride.
  • £8 for a school uniform is about the same as they say it will cost to provide a school dinner for over 10 weeks
The first program listed on the website for Common Threadz, a 501(c)(3) American non-profit, is "School Uniforms for Orphans & Vulnerable Children". They describe the problem:
For families facing the challenges of poverty in Africa, school clothes are not as crucial as the next meal. The direct costs of education, from a uniform and shoes to books and stationery, force millions of orphans and vulnerable children to miss out on school each year. For a child in need from a poor rural family who may only own one pair of old pants or a tattered dress, a school uniform is not just a requirement, but essential to build confidence and academic success.
World Vision UK runs MustHaveGifts, and sells a pretty smart looking Pakistani school uniform for £12.
  • The uniform is described thusly:
    • Pakistan: Children who can't afford a compulsory school uniform can be denied the right to an education, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. With a school uniform, children can attend school for the very first time and get on the path to a brighter future.
  • At $2,500 USD per capita PPP GDP de-adjusted to remove PPP is $941 or £1.65 per day or almost £12 per week
Based on the above I think that we can conclude that there is reasonable evidence to suggest that in parts of the developing world school uniforms are comparatively expensive and a prerequisite to education.

The next step, though I may not endeavour to take it due to the scale of effort required, is to gather all of the available evidence together to establish a high-level estimate of the scale of the problem. What is the aggregate cost of school uniforms across the developing world? How many children are denied an education as a consequence of their family not being able to afford school uniforms? Ultimately building to the question, What if the requirement were abolished? Once we know the "size of the prize", and please do forgive me for that blatant consultant-ism, we can begin sizing up what can be done about it.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry if I sound like I'm playing devil's advocate here but you cite Wikipedia as the source that school uniforms are compulsory in Ghana. If you follow the 3 references made one says nothing on the subject, one contradicts it and one makes specific reference to some schools being strict.

I'm not convinced that school uniforms are wrong. On the other hand there is a possibility that school uniforms could be used as a class based tool to discourage the poor from gaining an education. That would be a bit on the conspiracy theory side and I would need to see evidence that this is the case.

I shall ask my sister about this subject. As an educational psychologist she may be able to provide some input.

Anonymous said...

Actually, come to think of it...

Your initial hypothesis is:
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.

You use the term "unnecessary requirement." I think the more pertinent question (and one that is important to ask) is: Why do these charities spend all of this money on school uniforms? Is this because of non-rational reasons (cultural norms of target nations, cultural norms of the people who work in the charity, etc) or are they proven/shown to have a positive effect on education in poor regions of the world?

Anonymous said...

Presumably the people for whom a school uniform is their only clothing, would otherwise buy their clothing more cheaply. No net gain there.

Regarding the commentator above, systems can develop that maintain class divides without a conscious meeting of minds, and this is often how systemic discrimination develops.

Anonymous said...

Um, it's because charity is seldom the reason for collecting the money in the first place. But they wouldnt get many donations if they gave you the truth, would they. Excuse me, sir, would you like to donate? I work for United Way and need a few brand new hummer's and Range Rovers to drive us to work everyday. Really? Most Charity is a complete rip off, find something local to do in your community instead.