Imposition of dress codes for parents must be assessed objectively

Monday, 26 September 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

According to news reports appearing in various print and social media on 24 September 2016, the Hon. Minister of Education has banned schools from imposing dress codes on parents visiting the schools of their children. 

One is constrained to pose the question as to whether this was a knee-jerk reaction of the Hon. Minister or whether the decision was made after a careful, objective evaluation of the reasons that lead to the much-publicised announcement placed outside St. Joseph’s College, Maradana.

Is the Hon. Minister aware of the fact that many of the more popular schools (girls’ as well as boys’ schools) already have in place some kind of ‘dress code’ for visiting parents which is strictly observed? Does this not suggest that there is definitely some kind of common ‘problem’ experienced or envisaged by the school authorities stemming from the choice of dress of parents? Does not the fact that even girls’ schools have a dress code for mothers visiting such schools indicate another dimension to this problem?

According to the news item, the Hon. Minister’s decision appears to have been heavily influenced by the fact that a ‘dress code’ would compel working mothers who wear ‘uniforms’ (which incidentally is a dress code imposed by institutions) to change from their school dress code prior to going to work. Is it the case then that the Hon. Minister has been moved by the plight of this tiny proportion of all mothers visiting schools to impose the ban on dress codes for all mothers?

Should not the Hon. Minister have taken cognisance of the view expressed by some teachers that “a lot of parents, particularly young mothers today, wear inappropriate clothing to boys’ schools”. There are three factors that the Hon. Minister should have studied very carefully before issuing the blanket ban on dress codes.

Firstly, that in general the term ‘dress codes’ for parents merely limit the range of options available to parents with regard to their choice of dress when visiting their children’s schools. Dress codes do not specify a single type of dress only (e.g. saree only), for which a more apt description would be ‘uniform’. 

Secondly, that whatever the nature of the ‘problem’ is that led to the imposition of dress codes in boys’ and girls’ schools, it is perceived by school authorities as having an adverse effect on the learning environment of the students. 

Don’t the students of a school have a basic right to expect the school authorities to take the necessary measures to provide them with an environment that is conducive to their learning process? Have school authorities identified the unbridled choice of dress of visiting parents to be a serious contributory factor towards unsettling the normal learning environment? Are some parents so selfish and self-centred that they choose to place their own ‘rights regarding choice of dress’ over and above that of their own children’s ‘rights regarding a conducive learning environment’?

Thirdly, that expecting parents to ‘dress appropriately’ is bordering on the asinine simply because the concept of ‘appropriateness’ does not have an absolute objective meaning. It is extremely subjective and depends on a mix of social, economical, cultural, demographical and psychographical factors and even on the time of year and type of weather. This is why the choice of dress of some young mothers has irked the teaching staff of such schools. This is not to say or even imply that some mothers deliberately choose to dress controversially or provocatively when visiting schools.  

It is imperative that the Hon. Minister revisit his decision on this subject. In all fairness to all parties involved, the students, the school authorities and the parents, a serious attempt must first be made to understand the reasons that have compelled many boys’ and girls’ schools to issue such dress codes and how the implementation of such dress codes is expected to resolve such issues. 

Thereafter, clear guidelines must be issued as to what exactly is an ‘appropriate’ dress. It would be utterly stupid to devolve the responsibility of interpreting this ambiguous term to the security guards of a school.