Puja Mehta (name changed), a kindergarten student, slips on a pair of Reebok socks and shoes before heading for school every morning. The four-year-old's dalliance with branded clothing has begun this early not because of indulgent parenting, but her posh South Delhi school. The Reebok footwear has been made a compulsory part of her uniform by a prominent South Delhi school.
Puja's parents, however, are not the only ones being fleeced by the school authorities these days. Such practice of "exploiting" parents is becoming increasingly popular, which has now prompted the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to sit up, take notice and issue a circular against it.
Though the circular advises schools to desist from opening bookshops or uniform centres which prescribe and sell branded accessories, shoes, etc at inflated costs, the Board, according to CBSE chairman Vineet Joshi, is against any kind of blatant brand publicity by schools.
"Recently, we have received a lot of complaints from parents. Asking parents to buy certain gadgets or certain brand of clothing or accessories for students is unacceptable as it leads to discrimination between students," Joshi said. "Though the practice is not really that rampant, it makes sense to issue a circular and nip it in the bud," he added.
The most recent incident of such exploitation surfaced last month when Podar International School - a prominent South Mumbai school - made headlines for reportedly asking nearly 840 students to purchase the iPad2 to use for teaching purposes from the next academic year.
Though no school in the capital seems to have made such an outrageous demand yet, parents, nevertheless, are quite annoyed with the practice of including branded products in the school uniform. "I was forced to spend close to Rs.1,500 on the Reebok school shoes for my four-year-old daughter. At this rate, it will be impossible for me to send both my children to the same school. We can't afford it," Puja's mother said.
Some institutions such as another school in Greater Kailash, on the other hand, have "recommended" branded shoes and not made it compulsory. Amity International School in Noida recently resorted to some tacit brand promotion by sending its students back home with card offering an "opportunity" to "save money" while they eat at some of the leading fast food outlets. But parents and child experts are critical of this approach, too.
"Children are really brand conscious these days. So if a section of the class is wearing expensive shoes or bringing branded accessories to the class, the remaining children will bully their parents into buying them the same. So the school can conveniently absolve itself by making it 'optional', but that is no consolation for parents," school counsellor Vibha Khosla said.
Ameeta Wattal, principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road agrees. "Schools are meant to be a space that promotes equity and not separate children of weaker background from the rest. It's not appropriate to let children choose what they should wear to school. Then the contrast between the haves and haves not will seem more pronounced," she said.