While many countries, including the United States, don’t typically have any concept of school uniforms, there are plenty all over the world that do. But quite what those uniforms comprise varies greatly between countries, and even between schools. So, if you’ve ever wondered what kids wear to school in places like India, Nigeria and North Korea, then read on…
Cuban children’s school uniforms are distinctively maroon-and-white, apart from their neckerchiefs. Depending on how involved in the Communist Party youth group they are, their neckwear will either be blue or red. Indeed, kids have to “earn” their red scarves, which are provided by the state, along with the rest of their uniforms.
Where some countries have a single school uniform for all seasons and all occasions, Chinese pupils go the extra mile. Indeed, they usually have a whopping five different uniforms, meant for summer, winter, formal and everyday wear. The casual uniforms are virtually identical for both boys and girls. Times are changing, however, and in some Chinese schools, students now actually have some input into what their uniforms look like.
School uniform is compulsory in Ghana, yet many families are unable to afford the required clothing. To help solve this conundrum, in 2010 the Ghanaian government launched a free school uniform policy for elementary-level pupils in a bid to ensure every child received primary education. Every public school has the same uniform, with only the chest emblem distinguishing separate institutions.
17. Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone’s uniforms seem to differ significantly from those of other countries, not least because of the headwear pictured above. Nevertheless, the plain blue dresses and neckerchiefs fall in line with the smart appearance of many school uniforms all over the world. Unfortunately, many kids in Sierra Leone don’t attend school simply because they can’t afford the necessary kit.
Up until the early 2000s, Syria’s school outfits were an unchanging, desert-style khaki. But in 2003, the government decided to implement more colorful uniforms, characterizing the move as part of its bid for peace in the Middle East. Elementary kids now wear all blue, while intermediate pupils add pink into the mix. Secondary school students wear either blue, pink or grey.
Bhutan’s school uniform consists simply of the national dress, which has remained largely unchanged since the 17th century. Boys must wear a knee-length robe known as a “gho,” which has a handy pocket in the front. Girls, meanwhile, wear ankle-length dresses, comprised of a blouse and a “kira,” a piece of rectangular cloth. The material worn alternates, according to the climate, between cotton and wool.
14. Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, school uniforms are predominantly white, with only a smattering of blue to mix things up. Older boys wear white trousers, while girls of all ages wear strictly white main items of clothing. We can only imagine what the cleaning bill is like for those uniforms! Still, the government at least provides vouchers for uniforms, or the material to make them, for free.
Japanese school uniforms are probably most well-known for the girls’ sailor-style outfits. Modeled on Meiji-period military wear, the uniform is still in use in some schools, while others have opted for a Western-style blazer and tartan skirt. Boys, meanwhile, wear a blazer or sweater vest along with non-matching trousers. There are also warm-weather and sport variants of each uniform.
12. United Kingdom
Unlike many other countries, the U.K. has no nationwide dress code for students. Instead, individual schools are left to decide on uniforms, which are usually a combination of either a polo shirt and sweatshirt, or a shirt, tie and blazer. Across Britain, however, all schools must consider equality legislation to ensure uniforms don’t discriminate against any pupils – for instance, on religious grounds.
While uniforms in Australia are mostly mandatory, it’s up to each school to determine exactly what that uniform will be. Despite the heat, many boys aren’t allowed to wear shorts past the age of around 13, and even if they are, they have to wear knee-length socks with them. Girls, meanwhile, usually wear skirts and dresses, even in winter, although some can don trousers.
10. North Korea
One of the few traits North Korea – a country well-known for its state oppression – shares with other countries is its compulsory school uniforms. And that of course includes the red scarf that reflects the color associated with the ruling party. Otherwise, the students’ uniform is fairly plain, with white blouses or shirts and dark trousers or skirts.
Uniform is considered particularly important in India, and students must be smart and well-presented. The usual ensemble of shirts, trousers and skirts comprise most uniforms, with ties also required in some schools. Religious garb is permissible, including turbans and veils. However, dyed hair and even ponytails are banned throughout most of the country’s schools.
8. South Africa
Every school in South Africa has a uniform, but there are no country-wide rules about what each uniform must entail. Similarly, there’s no legislation on gender-neutrality among pupils, so there are usually clear differences between what boys and girls wear. Nevertheless, the students doubtless appreciate the uniforms’ seasonal nature, with different options available for summer and winter.
There’s no set uniform across Vietnam, where outfits can vary between schools. Most pupils can be found in white shirts with dark trousers, but certain private schools may also include skirts, blazers and ties in their dress code. Many schools in the Mekong Delta require girls to wear the áo dài, a white tunic with trousers, as everyday dress. In the north of the country, however, the garment is usually only required on formal occasions.
In Nepal, meanwhile, uniforms can prove to be a similar barrier to education for many. Indeed, kids aren’t allowed to attend elementary school without the correct uniform. As pictured here, the typical Nepalese school uniform is particularly smart, consisting of a sweater, shirt and even a tie. Girls wear skirts, while boys wear trousers.
It wasn’t until 1991 that Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union, and unsurprisingly, schools have deviated wildly from its rules in the years since. Indeed, Soviet uniforms were once completely standardized throughout the U.S.S.R. – now, only elementary kids wear uniforms, like those pictured above. Beyond that, it’s up to the individual school, but many students don’t wear uniforms at all.
In Nigeria’s typically warm climate, it’s no surprise that boys’ uniforms include the option of wearing shorts. As in many African countries, initiatives exist to provide the poorest families with uniforms free of charge. For instance, a program in Lagos has already benefited upwards of 7,000 pupils across nine different elementary schools.
3. Hong Kong
As a former British colony, it’s probably no surprise that Hong Kong’s uniforms are quite similar to those of the U.K., with polo shirts, shorts and skirts. Really, only the braces in the girls’ uniform offer any clear distinction. Meanwhile, some older Christian girls’ schools in Hong Kong continue to wear uniforms of traditional Chinese heritage, and some kindergarten kids wear sailor suits.
While there are variations in schools across the Philippines, most students wear the same base outfit of a white top and dark trousers, or in the case of girls, a checkered skirt. Some schools then have additional items including blazers and neckerchiefs. However, in 2008, the government declared that uniforms were no longer obligatory, in order to help families who were struggling financially.
School uniforms in Uzbekistan may seem somewhat monochromatic, but there’s no denying they’re smart. Indeed, the collars and sleeves on these dresses are particularly ornate. In 2017, the Uzbekistan government announced plans to introduce a single, cohesive uniform for the entire country, with parents and experts involved in their design. If they’re as fancy as these ones, we don’t think anyone will be complaining.