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Schools in French town embark on uniform trial

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-28 09:45

French Education and Youth Minister Nicole Belloubet leaves following the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Feb 21, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Hundreds of students in southern France wore uniforms to school for the first time on Monday, as part of a national trial to test the feasibility of making the attire mandatory.

In an effort to assess the potential benefits of reducing inequality and improving behavior, about 700 students across four schools in the town of Beziers became the first to reintroduce uniforms as part of a government pilot program, Agence France-Presse reported.

Compulsory uniforms have not been required in state schools across the French mainland since 1968.

Following the government's ban on Muslim abayas in schools last year, along with the previous ban on headscarves in 2004, President Emmanuel Macron recently unveiled the uniform trial at about 100 schools, aiming for nationwide mandatory implementation by 2026 if the trial is deemed successful.

So far, 92 schools have agreed to the trial, Education Minister Nicole Belloubet said.

"What we would like to see is if, yes or no, wearing a uniform can create tranquility in classrooms," Belloubet said. "We know you learn better in a peaceful environment."

Students in Beziers, a town under the governance of the far right and facing high unemployment rates, were recently invited, along with their parents, to collect their uniforms consisting of a navy blue blazer with the school logo, two white polo shirts, a gray pullover, a pair of trousers and either shorts for boys or a skirt for girls, with the city and local education authority sharing the cost of 200 euros ($217) for each uniform.

The implementation of uniforms would assist in the fight against bullying, Beziers' Mayor Robert Menard said.

"When you're rich or poor, you don't dress exactly the same way," he said. Now, "it will be less visible".

Opposition voiced

The initiative has faced strong opposition from some teachers, students and parents, with critics arguing that the funds would be more beneficial if allocated to other aspects of public education aimed at enhancing learning.

The SE-UNSA teachers' union criticized the measure, saying that it is a "superficial response to a fundamental problem" that would "in no way help resolve the troubles and failures of students".

"A poor child wearing a uniform remains a poor child," Michel Tondellier, a sociologist and lecturer at Antilles University, was quoted by The Guardian as saying. "One-size-fits-all clothing will not eradicate socioeconomic inequalities, but only attenuate their most visible aspects."

Schools have until June to take part in the initiative, which has garnered support from first lady Brigitte Macron, a former drama teacher, as well as far-right former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who both endorse the implementation of a compulsory dress code.

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