I never wore a school uniform. Ever. From kindergarten at Lindbergh Elementary School in the 1960’s through high school at Kenmore West Senior High School in the 1970’s I was a public school kid. That meant we never had to wear a school uniform. School uniforms were for Catholics.
In Kenya, every student, whether in public or private school, from primary school through secondary school, wears a school uniform every single day. Let me say that again. Every student in this entire country wears a school uniform to school every single day.
This was made vibrantly clear today as I walked across campus and saw an event for secondary school students in Bishop’s Square at Kenyatta University. I saw at least 500 school children in a blaze of color on the grounds of the square under tents and strolling the campus, in skirts and vests and sweaters and ties and knee socks and suit jackets. Some were subdued, in soft browns and yellows. Some shouted with bright reds and blues. Maroon is a popular choice. I see school uniform stores all the time, and it is no wonder. The boys all wear black dress shoes with dress pants. In primary school they wear shorts. The girls all wear skirts or dresses. No trousers are ever seen on young girls.
Kenyans are much more formal than Americans. They are more formal than the British. My university students wear dress shoes and it is rare to see jeans. What are gym shoes? Never. Although I see T-shirts, I also see a balance of crisply ironed dress shirts and ties. It is not uncommon to see a woman in heels and a skirt walking on a dirt path through a field. Women in dresses sit neatly on the back of motorcycles.
Americans are trendy fashion slackers. Kenyans have good old-fashioned class.