Uniform rule needs review

Uniform rule needs review

When a teacher in Uthai Thani spotted a number of her students coming to school without wearing a singlet to conceal their bras under their uniform, she became so infuriated that she told them to line up and ordered a group of boys to stare at their breasts.

When news of the unusual punishment, which was aimed at shaming the girls, came to light, it triggered a torrent of anger, both from parents and the society.

As it turned out, the school, the name of which was not released to the public, was not short of scandals. Not long after the female teacher shamed a group of students over their undergarments, a male teacher was accused of sexually harassing students on Line. Unsurprisingly, he denied it and claimed his account had been hacked.

The school has set up a committee to look into both cases, and promised fair treatment for all concerned.

In a further attempt to downplay the incident, the school's board ordered all female teachers at the school to apologise to the students. The board said while the teacher was repentant, the students still sought to pursue legal action against her.

The fact is, it is the Education Ministry's policy to enforce students' dress codes and hairstyles.

Over the years, the ministry has encouraged education institutions to be more lax about enforcing uniform rules, saying the way the rules were enforced may infringe on students' rights. That said, there are still reports of schoolboys being forced to adopt crew-cuts, while girls in some schools still have to wear their hair cropped extremely short.

Not only do such rules curb the students' creativity, they are humiliating, if not, outright dehumanising. Furthermore, the bizarre way these rules are enforced -- shaving off the hair, or slashing the shirt of the offender -- only make the experience worse.

While it waits for the committee to publish its probe results, the school owes the public an explanation as to why its teachers were still enforcing dress codes, thus disregarding the ministry's directive. It should also explain why it waited until the victims' parents filed a complaint with authorities to launch an inquiry.

The school's board should realise that shaming students in such a humiliating way, even if it was done in the name of discipline, is immoral. More importantly, it should realise that by doing so, it is effectively sending the wrong message that girls who violate the school dress code are "bad girls'' who deserve to be harassed.

The school must realise that shaming has nothing to do with discipline. Instead, it reflects and reinforces the idea that women are to blame for sexual harassment -- that by dressing provocatively, women automatically become an object to be harassed, or even raped. Sadly, a number of serial sex offenders have cited this as the reason for committing their assaults.

Such attitudes are so ingrained in society that activists, led by key figures like actress/model Cindy Bishop launched an online campaign #Don't Tell Me How To Dress in an attempt to eradicate the toxic misperception.

Instead of perpetuating the problem, it is necessary that schools be part of the solution. In fact, school dress codes which require students to put on layers of clothes should no longer be enforced. Not only is it illogical given Thailand's hot and humid climate, it's a financial burden for the girls' families.

It is time for educators to review such archaic and impractical dress codes, if not scrap them altogether, If schools fail to correct the problem, the Education Ministry must step in.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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