Many parents in Ho Chi Minh City are complaining that the uniforms they are required to buy for their children from the schools they attend are too shoddy yet pricey.
The 2015–2016 academic year kicked off earlier this month across Vietnam, and some schools do not allow parents to buy uniforms from other sources.
L., a Ho Chi Minh City-based parent, said she had to buy three dresses for VND215,000 (US$9.6) each and two sets of sports uniforms costing VND190,000 ($8.48) for her first grader at L.T.V. elementary school in District 1.
The prices for such clothing are VND310,000 ($13.84) and VND260,000 ($11.61) each for fifth graders.
“I spent VND1.025 million on my daughter’s uniforms, but the fabric quality is so bad,” she stressed. “The sport outfits’ fabric is the cheap type so the clothes are not sweat-proof.”
The mother brought those sets of clothes to a tailor specializing in making uniforms, and was shocked to be offered a much cheaper price that could help her save VND40,000 ($1.79) apiece, she added.
The price is even cheaper at some local markets, only VND110,000 in Phu Nhuan Market in Phu Nhuan District and VND112,000 at Cay Queo Market in Binh Thanh District.
“My friends said their children’s school uniforms are as shoddy as my daughter’s, but with a cheaper price,” she said, pointing out that the highest price she knows of for a dress is VND185,000 ($8.26) at Nguyen Thuong Hien Elementary School in Go Vap District.
To solve the problem, many parents choose to shop at market booths which offer a variety of uniforms for schools across the city with lower prices and higher quality in comparison with the uniforms sold at schools.
Sellers there even agree to add more details in order to make their outfits look like school uniforms as per parents’ requirements.
Although parents are also allowed to purchase uniforms at local tailors as long as they look the same as the school’s design, some couldn’t find the right uniforms for their children anywhere else but at school because schools print their logos on the outfit, or use hard-to-find materials.
“It’s easy to know how much schools benefit from a uniform compared with prices offered at markets,” a parent in Go Vap District said. “Why do we have to buy new uniforms every year and why are the prices higher than in markets?”
M., a parent of a first grade student at the C. primary school in District 10, stressed that she does not care how much the outfit costs, but she and her daughter feel annoyed by the product’s quality.
“Her trousers’ bottom was torn after wearing it for only three days,” M. said. “When I brought the outfit to a market, people there mocked me for ‘lacking experience’ in buying new school uniforms.”
“They said uniforms bought from schools must be re-sewn before use," she added.
In addition, besides high prices and low quality, parents have also been dismayed since other items are also regulated as uniforms, including T-shirts which children at boarding schools wear for their noon nap, or backpacks.
“The price of a backpack for my daughter’s school is not expensive, but the point is she doesn’t like it because I had previously bought her a beautiful one” M., a parent of a sixth grader at L. middle school in Tan Binh District, expressed. “I don’t know why school is making more and more rules, even a backpack is required to be part of the uniform.”
“That really troubles us,” he added.
Moreover, a number of schools change their uniforms while the current outfits are still usable, causing more trouble and dismay for parents.
Two schoolgirls wearing uniforms of LTV primary school in District 1. Photo: Tuoi Tre
High commission contracts
According to a staff for a garment company, the commission for each contract between uniform suppliers and schools often ranges from 10-15 percent to even 40 percent.
A garment company owner shared that school uniforms are a favorite market section for many enterprises because schools do not require high quality products and this type of outfit will never be outdated.
“Winning contracts for student uniforms could ensure our revenue,” he said, adding that enterprises always try to offer competitive prices and ingratiate schools’ leaders to win contracts.
Educational agencies against costly uniforms
According to the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training, using uniforms at schools is a method to flatten the distance between rich and poor, as well as to strengthen school discipline.
However, the department completely bans acts in which schools trouble parents in the field of uniforms.
Uniforms have to be designed simply and be suitable to the age of students, and be agreed upon both by a school’s administrative board and parents, according to the department’s regulations.
It must also be made from durable materials and not cost more than the local market’s price.
Moreover, schools are not allowed to change uniform yearly, or add details to the outfit which will trouble students and parents, the department added, saying changes have to be announced and agreed to by parents before being applied.
Similarly, on August 24, the southern city of Can Tho’s Department of Education and Training released a dispatch requiring schools to not force parents to buy uniforms at schools.
The department also asked schools not to arbitrarily change their current uniforms or let parents sew or buy the outfits themselves.
Nguyen Huu Nhan, head of student affairs from the city’s educational department, said an inspector team will be established to visit schools and check whether they are following the regulations.