Impact of a Free School Uniform

Can School Uniforms Help Children Stay in School?

When everyone wears the same, the playing field is levelled and inequalities are left at the school gate. School uniforms can instil a sense of pride and community among students. They make getting ready for school simple – there aren’t any decisions about which outfit to wear and because there’s no eye-catching fashion to pose a distraction or provoke jealousy, school uniforms can potentially increase focus on studies. 

At Kapes, we know that the benefits are far-reaching, here and around the globe. Attendance is of course fundamental for learning but the UNESCO Institute of Statistics estimates that almost one third (31%) of primary and secondary age children don’t attend school in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to just 3% in UAE. 

In Africa where school uniforms are the norm, providing them for free can actually help children to stay in school and pursue their educational qualifications so for every student that we sell a uniform to in the UAE, we have committed to provide a free uniform to a child in need in Africa every year. This is just part of our promise to put people and planet first. And we will also manufacture these school uniforms locally to help create jobs and opportunities within these communities. 

Many countries in Africa have now eliminated general school fees, but the cost of uniforms remains a significant barrier. Historically, some headteachers would send children away if they arrived at school without the appropriate uniform so when some families are unable to afford school fees or uniforms, social inequalities are exacerbated. So when the ICS-Africa sponsored certain primary schoolchildren in poor, rural communities in Western Kenya to receive free school uniforms, researchers were able to collect data to assess the impact of uniform distribution. 

ICS-Africa used a lottery to determine which children from 12 primary schools would receive school uniforms as part of their Child Sponsorship Program. More than 900 children were sponsored by donors in other countries to pay for their school fees and uniforms and field officers visited the schools to measure the sponsored children before providing a new uniform each year. The field officers also made unannounced visits to the schools multiple times a year to record whether each child enrolled in the program was present in class. 

Absenteeism in these schools was about 20% – on average, a child would miss one day of education every week – but that fell significantly in the initial years of the program. The research published in 2009 by economists at The World Bank, Harvard University and Yale University concludes that uniform provision reduced school absenteeism in these Kenyan communities by 44% for the average student, and 62% for students who did not previously own a uniform. The experts also concluded that the effect of receiving a uniform had a slightly larger positive impact on girls than boys and on younger (age 5-9) children than older (age 10-14) students. 

Although a uniform is by no means the magic pill, it is our way to help keep kids in school, says Kapes founder Matthew Benjamin. “Education and sustainability go hand in hand, we simply cannot achieve sustainability until education is widely accessible to all”, says Benjamin. He explains, “considering that it is the people least responsible for climate change that will suffer the most, I believe that we all have a responsibility to do what is within our power to help those that are marginalised to lift themselves out of poverty”.

By partnering with Kapes you not only are providing your students with uniforms that are better for them and the planet, but you are teaching them to be global citizens by providing uniforms and access to education to those who need it most.