Why is Norway talking about introducing school uniforms?

Why is Norway talking about introducing school uniforms?
A 2008 file photo of a school classroom in Norway. Photo: AFP
Minister for Education and Research Trine Skei Grande says that fashion pressure on young people in Norway is a problem, but school uniforms are not the answer.

Unlike in some other countries — including the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia – Norway’s schools do not generally have uniforms.

But a post by a Norwegian blogger, Martine Halvorsen, has highlighted the pressure on young people to look good at school, prompting a debate on whether uniforms are a potential solution.

In the January 29th blog, Halvorsen wrote about children as young as primary school age who feel under pressure to wear the right brands.

“I know an 11-year-old and the boys in his class haven’t spoken to him for the last two days. Why? Because his mobile phone is a hand-me-down from his father. Because he wears a belt from H&M. Because his shoes are also cheap,” she wrote.

In comments to broadcaster NRK, the blogger went further, saying that she had heard stories of school children who had suicidal thoughts due to feeling pressured over the matter.

Discussion of the topic has resulted in at least one opinion article in the country’s mainstream media calling for school uniforms to end “class hierarchy” in normal schools, breaking with a well-established tradition in which school kids are allowed to wear their own clothes to class.

The debate has now drawn comment from education minister Grande, who told NRK that she had followed the discussion around the blog post, but that it was a topic that has also surfaced in the past.

“The idea of us in the government deciding what youngsters should wear at school seems to me far from the Norwegian school mentality and the Norwegian sense of free choice,” the minister, who is also the leader of the Liberal party, said.

Grande also said that she did not agree with the argument that school uniforms would end pressure on young people to purchase and wear popular items.

More important was ensuring an open discussion with school children about how to promote a good culture at schools, she said.

“This is a societal challenge that we are facing and one which doesn’t have any simple solutions,” she said.

The leader of the School Student Union of Norway (Elevorganisasjonen), Alida de Lange D'Agostino, told NRK that inequality in schools is not only expressed through clothing, and therefore would not be solved with school uniforms.

“We have to solve the underlying problems and not try to solve them with authoritarian treatment of the symptoms,” she said.

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