School uniforms carry little sway with Swiss

School uniforms are compulsory in South Africa Keystone

Schoolyards have become such a showcase for expensive brands and street fashion that uniforms are being suggested by some as a necessary response.

This content was published on March 7, 2006

But they are virtually unknown in Swiss culture and there is strong opposition to the notion of children and teenagers wearing them to school.

A Basel newspaper, the Basler Zeitung, has opened up an internet debate forum on the issue. "The idea is well-intentioned but I have... some difficulty with school uniforms. It has something to do with the army, with the "we" feeling of the National Socialist past," writes one contributor.

In his view, the fact that school children are often walking advertisements is an expression of freedom.

Schoolchildren in Lucerne will not have to wear school uniforms after a proposal in the cantonal government to introduce school uniforms was rejected in January.

The idea, put forward by one of its members Josef Roos, was thrown out on the grounds that school uniforms didn't suit the cultural environment, and suppressed the identity and personality of the child.

Roos, from the rightwing Swiss People's Party, argued that the move was necessary to tackle the inflated value that school children placed on fashion clothing.


Playgrounds are dominated to such an extent by brand showcasing, he claims, that it distracts from the importance of education. Those who don't play the game are subject to bullying.

For Roos uniforms work in favour of a classless society and a sense of togetherness. With everyone dressed the same, you can no longer tell if a child comes from a lawyer's or factory worker's family.

"School uniforms are unSwiss," argues Damian Meier, a member of the cantonal parliament for the Radical Party. Roos counters that maternity pay also had no tradition in Switzerland but has nevertheless been introduced.

Another contributor to the internet forum also raises the question of how much of the parental role the state and school should to take on. "It's not right that parents who are overwhelmed by their children's demands for trendy clothes pass the responsibility on to the state or school."

School clothes

Although school uniforms in Switzerland are almost unthinkable, bordering on revolutionary, other countries, such as Britain, Ireland and New Zealand, have a different approach. School uniforms there have been the norm for generations.

One secondary school teacher from Hamburg, Karin Brose, has thought of a novel way to approach the school dress code and she's written a book on the subject.

Instead of having a uniform imposed from above, she advocates a school dress code which is democratic, allowing the pupils to have a say.

Brose has plenty of experience in the area. Five years ago, the 55 year old introduced "school clothes" in her class, which were accepted by the students.

"They identify with their school clothes, because each person can choose from a comprehensive collection of modern clothes." Only the colour and logo are specified.

The teacher has observed that in classes where the school clothes are worn, the feeling of belonging together grows, just like in a sports team and other interest groups. "Exclusive private schools still use this principle," she points out.

Positive reaction

Karin Brose's pupils all agree that the introduction of school clothes has brought about positive changes.

These views are supported by a study carried out by Giessen University. In classes with standard clothing the social climate is better, leading to higher concentration and a higher sense of security. Young people from these classes attach less value to clothing.

However, according to the study, the school clothes must be worn for a certain length of time before the difference becomes apparent. The researchers don't attribute all the positive changes to wearing the same pullover.

Oliver Dickhäuser, author of the study, says no success would be possible without committed teachers and the concept being supported by students and parents.

Brose feels the same. The subjects of fashion, brands, peer pressure, respect and manners have to be discussed with the students. This brings about a process of awareness.

In this way Swiss pupils could learn something about the low production costs of expensive brand clothing and the high cost of advertising and marketing.

swissinfo, Etienne Strebel

Key facts

At the end of January, the cantonal government in Lucerne voted against the introduction of school uniforms.
As a general rule, school children in Switzerland do not wear uniforms.
School uniforms dominate in Britain, Ireland and Cyprus. Outside Europe they are the norm in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and many former British colonies.

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In brief

More and more young people are caught up in the consumption of status items such as clothes, mobile phones and electronic equipment.

Experts estimate that Swiss children and young people have a total of at least SFr600 million pocket money at their disposal per year.

In a survey of 1,000 young people, 760 of them said they would be prepared to get into debt.

In Finland, money management is on the school curriculum for 14- to 16-year olds.

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