Uniform according to Oxford Desk Dictionary and thesaurus, means “conforming to the same standard, rule or pattern.” It is an unchanging form. When applied to the dress recommended for students, it means there must be a distinctive form and features that the uniform worn by all the students must have. In the past, we have the same pattern and materials for shirt and knicker for boys and the same pattern and material girls’ wear, and of course, the same design. Some schools still keep the beret for girls as part of the school uniform.  The uniform is a school wear and has nothing to do with faith or the cultural practice of any group.

Students in Osun now dress according to their faiths to school

Thus, what we have in Osun state, whether through a government fiat or court verdict is an anomaly. When a Court of law allow girls to wear hijab in the name of religious practice, then the uniformity of the School wear is jeopardized, the educational climate is tarnished and there is no longer a conducive climate for uniformity of purpose.

In civilized climes, institutional integrity is always upheld. Traditions, organizational practices and culture, rules and regulations are not just changed in favour of particular religion. When any student is admitted to a school, one of the requirements is the understanding that the student must abide by the rules and regulations of the school and uphold the traditions of the school. This has nothing to do with the promotion of any religion, but upholding the integrity of that particular institution. Therefore, to have sections of the school wearing hijab and choir-robes and soutanes to class is to corrupt a veritable tradition of school wear. It is a mark of indiscipline, an index of a poor education or lack of it. It is therefore, not strange that this has been allowed to shape the educational landscape of Osun State, a State that has been bedeviled by a fast multiplying bug of educational malaise ranging from governmental ignorance of children’s need, lack of respect for veritable institutional tradition, to the ill- advised mega school where many students become lost in the crowd and are left behind. We must also remember the attendant lack of qualified teachers to teach in those schools and the current lack of funds to pay teachers or maintain structures or provide educational resources.

Faced with such magnitude of problems, one wonders why Osun State government would even allow trifles to becloud its judgment.  But since this problem has been forced on us, we cannot remain silent or indifferent. These are my recommendations:

• Osun State Government and the Ministry of education need a seminar on “The nature and meaning of School uniform.” I am free to conduct the seminar, gratis.

• The Judge that gave a verdict allowing Muslim students who form a section of the educational community to wear Hijab to school, need to attend a professional course on “Community building and Social etiquette”.

• CAN officials who decreed that Christian students should wear choir robes and Soutanes need a crash course on the rule of law and responsible citizenship.

• Since the Court has given a verdict in favour of the Muslim students, Christian students and other aggrieved bodies must go to the law court to appeal the running or demand for their rights without taking things into their own hands. Remember, two wrongs do not make a right.

• The students who have become pawns in the chess game of Osun State need liberation from all these mess and only true education that they are being denied can set them free.

• What are parents doing about this? The Silence is deafening! Let me advise you to write to both your council chairman and the Governor that you want change- real and progressive change in the educational climate of Osun State, so that the future of your children is not irreparably damaged.

• If you want to wear a distinctive religious garb in the course of your educational pursuit, then you must attend a Seminary, or Quranic School or any other religious school set up for that purpose. In this environment, the religious garb is not only encouraged, it is required and those who attend such schools know this from the very beginning.

• While we are at it, it is good to remind the fanatics among us that when we make a choice, we also decide to abide and accept all that is attached to that decision. For instance, if you embrace a western style education, you must conform to the norm laid down by the founders. If you decide to send your ward to a school established by a religious body, you are also in principle and in practice making a decision to allow your ward to participate in all the tradition and practices of that school. If you object to this, then the other option available must be for you to take your ward elsewhere. This is what critical reasoning that has become scarce in supply demands.

• In the workplace today, Friday is regarded as a cultural day or dress down day where the strictly Western-themed office dress IS NOT REQUIRED. Staff could thus, be seen wearing traditional themed attire. Those who want religious garb in school may wish to consider this practice and denote a day as a “free-style” day when students can wear dresses other than uniform to school.  In the absence of this, we must by virtue of a superior reasoning, by virtue of our desire for peace and tranquility, by virtue of fair play demand that uniform be treated as uniform – uniform for all students.

 ~ Rev. Fr. Richard Omolade writes from the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan.

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