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
- $2,500 USD GDP PPP per capita de-adjusted for PPP, converted to GBP and divided by 365 is £3.02
- £4 is about the same as an average week's wages in Ethiopia
- $1,000 USD GDP PPP per capita is about £4.23 per week calculated as above, sadly reasonably assuming no days off
- 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
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
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:
- 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
- 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.
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.