Armenia: School Uniforms: In Good or Bad Taste?

school uniformsYEREVAN | Gayane Grigoryan, a 27 year-old resident of Yerevan, wore her school uniform for only a couple of weeks at the start of the second grade. When Armenia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in September 1991, schoolchildren were told they could wear whatever they wanted in the classroom from that day on. But, eighteen years later, the debate over whether or not students should be obliged to wear school uniforms is far from stowed away in the back of the closet.

Students, themselves, are divided on the issue.

Fourteen year-old Suren Daboyan is a student at School № 1 in Yerevan, where all her fellow pupils wear uniforms after a recent joint decision taken by the parents’ committee and the teachers’ council. “When students wear uniforms, they are all equal. When they don’t and some dress better than the rest, the other students feel shy,” said Daboyen.

Astghik Tadevosyan, 15, studies at School № 146 in Yerevan, where students do not wear uniforms. “I would like us to wear uniforms so that we would all look more like students,” said Tadevosyan, adding that some of her classmates, as well as the school administration, are against the idea.

Seda Ghazaryan, a 14 year-old student of school № 161 in Yerevan is happy that she doesn’t have to wear a uniform. “I can wear whatever I want,” she explained. “If there were uniforms, I would have to wear the same thing every day.”

The issue of compulsory school uniforms has split officials, teachers, parents and students into two camps: those in favor of uniforms and those in favor of a free dress code, each side with its own arguments for and against it.

Ruzanna Dokhalyan, the office director of the middle school in the Mkhitar Sebastatsi education complex in Yerevan, believes it is wrong to force children to dress in a certain way at an age when they are just starting to form their own individual tastes. She does not believe that less wealthy students’ inability to afford expensive or trendy clothes necessarily causes social polarization in the classroom: “A person can live in very poor conditions, but still have taste. Perhaps his clothes will not be expensive, but they will be tasteful.”

Students at the Yerevan’s school № 99 wear uniforms. But, as the vice principal, Karen Asatryan points out: “It is not mandatory and the school doesn’t have the right [to force students to wear them]. The parents’ committee decided what the students wear, but I repeat: it is not compulsory and children don’t have to wear uniforms if they don’t want to.”

The school pays for the uniforms for children of families who cannot afford them. Asatryan, for his part, is in favor of the school uniform because he believes it deemphasizes the difference between rich and poor students. “Besides that,” he added, “school uniforms are cheaper because parents make them and children wear them all year long.”

According to Asatryan, it costs parents 5000-6000 drams (13-15 USD) to make school uniforms, scarcely enough to buy a t-shirt at the market.

But not all school uniforms cost so little. Some parents pay up to 35,000 drams (92 USD) to make special uniforms.

Mikayel Grigoryan was a first grade student at the private school “Education” but his parents refused to pay 25,000 drams (66 USD) to buy uniforms for their child. They moved him to another school where students are free to choose what they wear.

Education officials have taken a hands-off approach to the issue.

“If the school finds that it is appropriate for students to wear uniforms and if the parents aren’t against it – in other words, if they can afford it – the Ministry doesn’t interfere,” explained Narine Hovhannisyan, the head of the Department of Public Education of the Ministry of Education and Science.

The Ministry only intervenes when there are complaints. So far, the only complaints have come from parents in the Armavir region, where the regional council forced students to buy special uniforms at high prices – which turned out to be of very low quality.

Mrs. Angela, a parent from Armavir, explained that in spite of a ministerial intervention, students in their region are still being forced to come to school in special uniforms.

She is skeptical that the ministry’s intervention did any good. “I heard that we have to buy uniforms again, but I can’t say for sure because that will be clear at the end of August when summer vacation is over,” Angela said.

Residents of the Armavir region say that the production and sale of school uniforms is a business owned by region head’s family and by the head of the regional council’s education division. However, both have denied the allegations against them in the press.

The chief expert of the “Ayg” psychological service, Ruben Poghosyan, says that school uniforms create a unique atmosphere in which the person wearing a uniform considers him or herself to be a member of the group. According to the psychologist, what is more important is that the students feels “like a student” regardless of what he or she is wearing.

“As a minister, I pay more attention to the content of instruction than what students wear when they go to school,” said the Minister of Education and Science, Armen Ashotyan, in response to the issue. His only suggestion was that it would be nice to have students wear uniforms in the same shade of color.

Ashotyan thinks there will be a backlash against him when the ministry finally makes a decision about uniforms, especially if it becomes a state business. For the time being, however, the minister prefers to let schools settle the matter individually.




Share this Post