Guidelines will naturally lower cost of school uniforms

Image: 123RF/Murali Nath

South Africa is riddled with stories of discrimination and restrictive practices. One such scourge is the imposition of artificial barriers to entry for education.

In a country where people have been blocked through a system that institutionalised discrimination, we need to be extra cautious and sensitive to conducts that impose hurdles to access quality education.

The Competition Commission is concerned about practices that lessen or prevent competition.

Last year, the commission launched an investigation into the school uniform industry to eradicate this behaviour.

The investigation will contribute to better access for parents and will hopefully lower their financial burden. The high prices of school uniforms increase the cost of schooling and may even exclude learners of parents who cannot afford expensive uniforms.

There is a need for the commission, the Department of Basic Education and all stakeholders to ensure that schools adhere to generic school items.

Importantly, parents must not abdicate their oversight responsibilities; they must remain at the heart of school activity to protect their own interests.

There is a general consensus that school uniforms play an important role in the schooling system.

It makes education accessible for learners from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Some people even argue that it emboldens discipline, makes learners identify with a particular school and therefore builds a sense of community and of belonging.

Many schools, public and private, enter into exclusive agreements with a single supplier, compelling parents to purchase only from that supplier. This kind of arrangement creates a monopoly, leaving parents with little choice.

Even though there have been interventions by the Department of Basic Education, which led to the signing into effect and publishing of a 2015 circular by the minister, these concerns remain. The circular set out the following guidelines for the procurement of school uniform.

We are aware that the circular reached a number of schools, and some of those schools are already following the guidelines. The commission is also aware, through a survey it conducted in 2017, that the circular did not reach many schools in the country.

In fact, the commission's investigation into the pricing and the procurement of school uniforms follows a big outcry by parents regarding the exorbitant prices of school uniform, and the lack of alternative suppliers of school uniforms.

If schools adhere to the guidelines set by the circular, it can be expected that the price and the overall cost of school uniforms will naturally decrease.