Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Role of Uniforms in Peruvian Schools

Last week in the village of Conchucos we were not prepared to respond when both school directors asked for uniforms for their students. We probably should have been because they did mention them during our first visit. Uniforms are required in all Peruvian public schools.

This is the standard formal school uniform across Peru. The girl’s uniform consists of a pleated skirt, white blouse and tie. Boys wear pants usually matching the dominant color of the girl’s skirt, a white shirt and tie. In cool weather a matching sweater is added to the uniform. In poor villages uniform requirements are waived, but even in the poorest village you will see one or two kids in formal uniform. The cost can range from $25 to $50 or more depending on the material and who is making them.

Another popular uniform is the ‘sport’ uniform. In city schools students usually have both. A complete sport uniform consists of pants, t-shirt and jacket. This uniform is usually less expensive, starting at about $15. Other, less expensive options might be just pants and t-shirt or shorts and t-shirt. 

The Conchucos primary school has 35 students officially registered – the pronoei has 15. The cost of 50 formal uniforms would be over $1000. Sport uniforms would be $700. Just pants and t-shirt would be about $500. We have donated uniforms just one time previously, in the village of Eureka last June and as I mentioned in a recent post I personally was a little uncomfortable with that because I don’t see a direct link to uniforms keeping kids in school. Of our group I am the only one who has reservations. Maribel and the other Promesa Peru members see a clear relationship between school attendance and uniforms, and apparently so do the people who donated for the Eureka uniforms.

During our visit last week I challenged the two Conchucos school directors and four mothers to convince me that uniforms help to keep kids in school. I started the conversation by saying that school uniforms do not exist in the United States, and I don’t understand why they should be necessary in Peru. A lot of discussion followed but their responses came down to four basic reasons:

1) Parents can’t afford ‘proper school clothing’ and are reluctant to send their kids to school in tattered worn clothing.

2) A school uniform with sweater or jacket protects the kids from rain and the early morning desert chill, especially those who are walking long distances.

3) A school uniform doesn’t need to be washed every day. The kids put them on just prior to going to school and take them off immediately upon returning home. When I asked why they couldn’t do that with regular clothing…why they couldn’t designate a child’s best pants and shirt as school clothing and not wash it every day, their answer was that they don't have enough clothing to reserve one set for school use only.

4) A uniform identifies the students with their school. Parents and teachers were surprisingly emphatic about this.

I still feel that uniforms are more tradition than necessity, but I also understand the practical benefits mentioned by the directors and parents. The pronoei in Conchucos is little more than a teacher with a building. Providing school supplies and furniture will essentially resurrect  that school, and in the words of one of our group, supplying uniforms “would be the finishing touch to that project.”

We’d like to provide 15 sport uniforms to the pronoei kids. They’re younger and we think more in need. That will cost $210. We want to give 35 t-shirts to the primary students at a cost of $175. The shirts will provide some help to the parents, and we’ll see about providing pants later. If you can help us, please visit the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.


  1. As a parent, I like school uniforms. I never have to worry about what my kids are going to wear to school, and they know what needs to be clean for the next day. I never had my kids wear the same uni all week without washing though - I had 2 or 3 white shirts and two pants + one buso (the sport uni). They wore a clean shirt every day and used the pants 2 days. I realize this is a luxury not all families have.

    I wondered about why the shirts were always such a thin material; a Peruvian friend told me it was so the shirt could be washed by hand in the afternoon and be dry in time for classes the next day.

    1. Hi Kelly – It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for commenting and for sharing your experience and perspective.