Controversy over school uniforms in northern Syria

Distribution of school uniforms to students in Tishreen school in Jarablus northeast of Aleppo - September 21, 2023 (Local Council of Jarablus City)

Distribution of school uniforms to students in Tishreen school in Jarablus northeast of Aleppo - September 21, 2023 (Local Council of Jarablus City)

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Enab Baladi – Abdul Karim al-Thalji

Attempts are recurrent to find a formal school uniform for students in schools in northwestern Syria, and they remain tentative initiatives. However, while the educational administration’s favorable perception of the initiative was met with criticism due to the poor quality of the uniforms or their colors, or even their psychological impact, there are fears that this step could later pose a burden on families amid pressing economic conditions.

The educational sector is suffering from a shortage of needs related to students, teachers, and even educational facilities in the schools of northern and eastern rural Aleppo, where the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) prevails, and in areas of Idlib and western Aleppo countryside where the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) governs.

6,000 pieces in Jarablus

Over the past four months, the local council in the city of Jarablus, northeast of Aleppo, has announced the distribution of school uniforms for several schools in the area, sparking controversy among the public due to the low quality of the fabric and the design that some considered similar to the uniform of the Ba’ath Vanguards in regime-controlled areas.

The director of education in Jarablus, Muslim Ibrahim, told Enab Baladi that the directorate decided that the distributed uniform for each school would be a specific color and not a uniform for all schools.

He stated that the purpose of the uniform is to know the school to which the student belongs, explaining that the quantity distributed is 6,000 pieces, and there are about 37,000 students in the Jarablus area.

Ibrahim added that 20 ladies working in the popular workshop affiliated with the local council of Jarablus, who were responsible for sewing the clothes, received modest wages. The fabric is donated by a philanthropist, according to him, noting that work is underway to distribute as many quantities as possible.

He pointed out that the cloth from which the uniform is made consists of several types and nine colors, noting that one of the colors did not please some locals, but it was offered by a philanthropist, and the women’s work continued for three months at nine hours a day.

A step with modest means

Ibrahim considered the school uniform a step in the right direction and that the project is special to education and does not follow any organization or entity. Work is happening according to the availability of fabric, stating that the project is very costly, and governmental agencies would struggle with it if they wanted to provide high-quality uniforms, because the required quantities are large and the means are modest.

Hassan Housho, a member of the Free Teachers’ Union in northern Aleppo, believes that the unified uniform is good, but it would be better to distribute clothes that give a civilized appearance to the educational process. He pointed out that the educational reality is not good, and there is no party sponsoring and supporting education appropriately in northern Syria.

Housho suggested that the project of school uniforms should be through an official entity such as the Interim Government, for example, but it needs significant capabilities, and most of the donated fabric is not valuable in the market, so its quality is bad and did not please many, and some said it would be better not to distribute it to students.

Melting class differences

The head of the educational office in the local council of al-Bab city, Abdul Latif al-Issa, told Enab Baladi that there is no general plan or decision to unify the school uniform in schools in northern Aleppo, and perhaps what Jarablus council did was a personal endeavor. He pointed out that this matter has been on the table in the area for two years, and there is a vision to implement it in the future.

Al-Issa added that the purpose of this is to have an official uniform for school students and to melt class differences within them, explaining that the clothing of the rich’s son differs from that of the poor’s son, and this often leaves a negative psychological impact on the poor child’s psyche.

From al-Issa’s point of view, it is necessary to unify the school uniform, considering that the uniform or color should be suitable and endearing to students, as the color has a significant impact on the psyche.

Pros and cons

The education expert Dr. Qutaiba al-Bashir, considered the school uniform good for students, meaning commitment to educational rules, and helps students to focus more on their studies and lessons instead of being preoccupied with their appearance and looks at school in front of their peers.

Al-Bashir told Enab Baladi that the unified uniform reduces class differences among students and decreases the bullying faced by poor students from their peers due to the difference in their clothes. Wearing a unified school uniform may help children feel a sense of belonging to their school. The similarity and closeness that bring them together may make them feel social responsibility towards the school and the individuals, thus increasing trust, respect, and care among members of this community.

Al-Bashir said that the unified uniform has some negatives, as it does not give students the chance to express themselves personally about their personality and feelings of difference and distinction. It may lead to preoccupation with the administration and teachers in monitoring adherence to the uniform, and buying school uniforms represents an item that requires more costs, especially in private schools.

He added that public schools in both Idlib and northern Aleppo do not impose a uniform, but the majority of schools and kindergartens enforce a special uniform in them, and its price is taken as a subscription from the students. This was confirmed by Abdul Qader Hamidi, who paid $20 for his two children studying in a kindergarten in one of Idlib’s schools as the price for the school uniform, in addition to the annual installments that reach $375.

In 2022, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in the Salvation Government in Idlib approved a unified school uniform for students, which sparked widespread controversy among the region’s residents and activists who considered it a replica of the uniform previously imposed on the students by the Syrian regime’s government. The Salvation Government later retracted its decision, saying that the model of the school uniform that spread on social networking platforms was not approved by it.

Deteriorating educational reality

The education sector in northern Syria suffers in terms of infrastructure and services provided to students, and the salaries of teachers who demand through repeated protests to increase it, while bombardment, especially in the Idlib areas, continues despite ceasefire agreements.

Regime and Russian forces systematically target educational institutions with bombardment that increases especially during school hours, resulting in casualties among students and teachers. Four schools have been targeted since the beginning of the current year and 30 schools during 2023.

In November 2023, the Director of Education and Higher Education in Idlib city, Ahmad al-Hassan, told Enab Baladi that the region’s schools are experiencing a shortage of textbooks, with half a million students in need of books.

Al-Hassan attributed the shortage to the end of memorandums of understanding with donor parties that provided the books in the previous years, which ended at the end of 2022.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that the military escalation in northwest Syria has significantly affected the ability to access education for 2.2 million children of school age.

It added that there are 2.2 million children of school age living in northwest Syria, of whom at least one million are out of school, noting that the situation is particularly dire in displacement camps.

 

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