Free School Uniform

The Impact of a Free School Uniform

While the opportunity for every kid to learn, explore and make the most out of their unique talents should be the core of a sustainable and fair society, a vast number of children in developing countries, such as Kenya, have no access to universal primary education. And although free education was introduced by the government in 2003, a generation of talented school-age children from lower-income families, still, there have many barriers to face that contribute to absenteeism.

The challenge

As the World Bank reported, school fees and other expenses are among the most prominent obstacles to universal primary education in emergent nations. Before 2003, parents were obligated to pay a certain fee for their kids’ primary school education. 2003, however, brought the introduction of free universal education and school-related supplies like textbooks and notebooks which led to dramatic increases in school participation. Still, there is a prominent issue even after school fees and basic supplies were paid for; the purchase of school uniforms, a mandatory requirement for school attendance.

The compulsory use of school uniforms has long been a hot topic of debate. Currently, over 20% of public schools worldwide (including Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia) require school uniforms which has a very negative effect on attendance rates. Pakistan, for example, has 24 million children out of school, with just 15% of poor rural girls finishing primary school. In Ecuador, although the primary school enrolment rate exceeds 95%, 25% of children will have dropped out by the end of the 5th grade.

So what if free uniforms were freely distributed to poor nations in an effort to raise levels of attendance?

How free school uniforms in developing countries can reduce absenteeism

According to a study between 2002 and 2005 conducted by the Dutch charity, ICS, providing free school uniforms to primary school children can massively affect their school participation rates in the short and long run. In fact, uniforms reduced absenteeism by 62 percent. It also served to encourage a higher participation in education by girls.

A non-governmental organization (NGO) was on a mission to provide subsidized school uniforms through their child sponsorship program to primary school children over the course of several years. The NGO closely monitored the attendance rates of 612 children who had received the free uniform. The study concluded that “the school uniform intervention has a positive and significant impact on school participation and a reduction in absenteeism, increasing school participation by .07 years per treated child. The impact is greater for poorer students. The program had a significantly larger effect on girls”. 

We believe that sustainability and education are very much interlinked and if we to build a sustainable future then no child must be left behind. This is why for every child that we sell a uniform to, we provide a free one to a child in need in a developing country, which started with Kirigu Primary School in Nairobi. To find out more about how your school can contribute to the initiative, please visit

The takeaway  

Ultimately, free school uniforms have a great impact on the attendance rates of kids from developing countries. Sadly, the African countries continue to be at the bottom of the rank – literacy rates are still below 30%. While in 1998 it is estimated that 381 million children were out of school, in 2014 this number fell to 263 million which is pretty encouraging. But still, there the road to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all is definitely a long one, but we are hoping to play our part one uniform at a time.