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Mandatory school uniform stages comeback in Russia

April 24, 2013, 15:55 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, April 24 (Itar-Tass) - Russia is restoring mandatory school uniform, canceled in the 1990s, when Russians still felt very bored with looking and thinking alike and “marching in step” both literally and figuratively and sought freedom “in everything whatever you do.”

Oddly enough, this idea, proposed by some politicians, has drawn a favorable response from school students, parents and teachers. Many hope that social inequality will not be so glaring in schools as it has been so far, and the problem of whether school students may wear traditional religious clothing or not will be resolved at last.

A bill on the restoration of school uniform was submitted to the State Duma on Tuesday and very probably school students will be wearing it as of September 1. Its author, State Duma member from the All-Russia People’s Front, member of the United Russia faction Olga Timofeyeva, drafted amendments to the bill On Education in Russia.

“This is being done in order to preserve school as a domain of knowledge, to rule out the classification of children as rich and poor, whose parents have no money to buy branded clothes. Also, we are against separating children into believes and non-believers, because some students may begin to wear religious clothes. We would like our children to grow up patriots of their schools,” the bill’s author said.

This time there will be no brown dresses with collars of lace and black or white aprons, which Soviet-era schoolgirls hated so much. The bill does not require standard clothes for all school students across the nation, either. The authors of the bill refrained from describing any strict requirements school uniform should meet in order to avoid dictating and give Russia’s regions complete freedom of choice. It will be up to the local authorities to decide which type of uniform will look best. Children from families in the low income brackets will get school uniform for free.

Russian President Vladimir Putin supported the idea of introducing school uniform at the first ARPF conference at the end of March.

“There must be school uniform in our country,” Putin said. He suggested making federal decisions that would oblige the regions introduce uniform and give territories and municipalities a chance to make up their mind regarding the details.

The standard school uniform in Russia was canceled in 1992. Brown dresses for school girls and navy-blue suits for boys disappeared in the early 1990s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the very opportunity to go to school wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt looked like a sure sign of new, free society. Now some schools have already introduced their own uniform. Most insist that their students should stick to an official business-like dress-code and just look decent in other ways. Some recommend uniform for elementary school students.

So far school uniform has been made mandatory only in the Stavropol territory. This measure, in effect since December last year, followed a row over school-girls from Muslim families, who appeared in class-rooms wearing hijabs. The management of that school made a decision to not let girls wearing Muslim kerchiefs attend classes. As a result, when President Putin recalled that Russia’s was a secular society after all, the governor of the Stavropol Territory ordered school uniform become mandatory in all schools.

Fashion designer Slava Zaitsev on April 5 presented his version of school uniform. At a special show young models demonstrated blouses, light sweaters, skirts, blouses, trousers and jackets for schoolgirls and a shirt, light sweater, and classical suit (trousers, vest and cardigan) for boys. Zaitsev promised that the full set of clothing will cost the parents 3,000-3,500 rubles.

The opponents of reintroducing school uniform argue that even a set of clothes that costs 2,000-3,000 rubles will be a heavy burden on poor families and families with many children. As for social inequality, it is seen to a far greater degree in the expensive mobile phones and other electronic gadgets some teenagers carry these days.

Some have already begun to speculate about wholesale corruption which, they suspect will spread to all schools. School directors may easily introduce school rules that would let a pre-selected clothes-making firm win a pseudo bidding contest.

Timofeyeva’s initiative will spell a hefty state contract for the clothes making industry. According to some estimates the industry will be getting an annual 36 billion rubles a year, as Russia today has 12 million school students and the price of one set of uniform should not exceed 3,000.

Whatever the case, the supporters of school uniform outnumber the skeptics and critics by far.

“From the psychological standpoint school uniform has tremendous resources,” the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda quotes Marina Loseva, a teacher and psychoanalyst at a lyceum in Volgograd, in the middle reaches of the Volga River, as saying. “This is so in terms of upbringing and education. One should remember that clothes are an excellent means of communication, although non-verbal. We have been able to see many a time that should a kid wearing bright clothes appear in the classroom, the whole instruction process is ruined. Besides, school uniform may help ease many conflicts that are likely among teenagers. Besides, the uniform is a token of special status, and this is very important for elementary school students.”

Besides, those school students who have got accustomed to wearing the same uniform, say that it not only improves discipline. It bolsters unity and helps make better academic progress. Some find it difficult to decide in the morning what to put on to go to school. The uniform leaves no room for such doubts.

According to a sociological survey by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Volgograd Region, 63% of school students, 77% of parents and 91% of teachers are certain that uniform is necessary. And 65% of parents and 89% teachers hope that it will help make social inequality not so glaring.