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Do away with discriminatory rules in our schools

Do away with discriminatory rules in our schools

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We are all for students and their parents respecting the rules of our educational institutions, but those rules cannot be discriminatory and must be just.

Last week, we learned that the parent of a six-year-old pupil at one of our government assisted primary schools had been given an ultimatum – cover your daughter’s dreadlocks, cut them, or she would have to leave the school. After complaining, the mother was later told that if she brought a medical certificate to say that the child could not cover her hair for medical reasons, the school would reconsider the matter.

It has been said that the school in question has a long-standing rule which states that Rastafarian pupils are not allowed to attend school with their hair uncovered.

It is shocking to learn that in 2019, such rules, which are blatantly discriminatory, and contrary to the Education Act, still exist at our educational institutions. Section 27 of the Education Act speaks to discrimination on the basis religion, race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, social status, physical handicap and in the case of mixed gender schools, sex. Although in this case, the child in question, is not Rastafarian, dreadlocks are traditionally associated with that religion. Then Section 20 of the Act says a student may express any religious, political, moral or other belief or opinion so long as the expression does not adversely affect the rights or education of other students, or the rights of other persons in the institution.

If a student with long hair (in this case dreadlocks) is asked to cover his or her hair, then all students with long hair must be required to do the same. If not, we would be forced to ask the question which no one seems to be willing to answer, why is it required that students with dreadlocks cover their hair?

The answer to this question is rooted in our Eurocentric, racist, colonial past and the perception that natural hairstyles in general and dreadlocks in particular are untidy and dirty.

Issues of hygiene and a neat and tidy appearance in our schools and workplaces, should be dealt with on a case by case basis, and not by way of a rule which stigmatizes a particular group by implying that their hair is inherently dirty and untidy.

We have also learnt that at other educational institutions, there are rules that require boys of African descent to cut their hair if it exceeds a certain length, but these rules do not apply to boys of Asian or European descent who have straight hair. For such rules not to be discriminatory, they must apply to all boys in the educational institutions in question.

If they have not already done so, the Ministry of Education needs to step in and outlaw such rules at our schools and articulate a clear and unambiguous policy on this matter.

Besides being discriminatory, such rules are wrong and breed self hate in black people.

There is also research that shows a correlation between positive racial identity and academic success. Our children must not be made to think that there is something wrong with their natural hair that requires them to hide it away. They must be allowed to celebrate the uniqueness of their hair with styles reflective of their culture.

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