My middle and high school students had told me that in some of their schools, uniforms wouldn't need to be worn until May, in order to allow parents to save money. This Joongang Ilbo article from last weekend explained more about this:
Due to controversy over expensive school uniforms, 38 middle schools in the Gangnam area allowed students to delay wearing their school uniforms until May. The delay was offered to give parents time to buy the uniforms collectively at better prices.A Korea Times article from last weekend also brought this up:
According to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, 231 out of 360 middle schools in Seoul have their students in uniforms already. Nineteen schools, or 5.2 percent, will have the students wear uniforms from April and 95 schools, or 26 percent, from May. Fifteen schools will start wearing uniforms in June. Eighty-five percent of the high schools in Seoul started wearing uniforms at the ceremony yesterday.
In an interview with a morning radio show, [Fair Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Kwon Oh-seung] said, ``We’ve obtained some evidence verifying allegations that school uniform makers had blocked consumers from making group purchases (in an attempt to sell uniforms for higher prices).’’It's hard to read the prices on the uniforms in the photo at the top of this post, but the ones I can read are more than 200,000 won. Most of the students I talked to said they generally wear the uniforms for the entire three years they go to their school, unless they outgrow them.
In January, the FTC started a nationwide investigation of makers of middle and high school uniforms and retailers and vowed to impose harsh sanctions over possible price fixing.
Consumer advocates say housewives were shocked when they read pamphlets about school uniforms in order to buy them for their children. They argue that winter uniforms cost around 400,000 won ($425) and summer ones are priced at 300,000 won _ prices similar to or more than those for adult men’s suits.
This topic came up in a class of middle and high school students, and we talked about some of the different attitudes towards school uniforms in North America and Korea. One of the high school students goes to a school with no uniforms, and she really dislikes this, the main reason being that she has to worry about what clothes to wear every day; those who wear uniforms don't have to think about this at all. The girls generally preferred uniforms because they were more comfortable; the boys didn't find their uniforms comfortable, but preferred them to having no uniform at all. At any rate, the girl who goes to the school without uniforms was happy because as of either next semester or next year, the school will get uniforms. The reason? In 2010 students will begin choosing which schools they want to go to (as opposed to being randomly assigned to schools in their district), and the school will have its students wear uniforms because, as my student put it, "Students want uniforms."
One reason for having uniforms that the students didn't overtly bring up was the fact that it masks, to some degree, the class differences between students. For awhile in the 1980s, uniforms weren't allowed in schools, but this was reversed for precisely this reason, at least according to friends who were in school at that time.
This reminds me of how, when I was in high school, the student council announced that from the next year we would be made to wear uniforms. During the last week of March, possible uniforms were displayed, and students were asked, sometimes on video camera, what they thought about this. Most of the students were against this, decrying the lack of freedom uniforms represented, and talking about expressing their individuality, or just ranting incoherently against the whole idea. Then on April 1 the entire exercise was announced to be an April Fool's joke.