Taking a day off just to buy the new school uniform for her 12-year-old daughter is something that Dina Maher has been doing for the past nine years.
“It is my school year nightmare,” says Maher.
The 40-year-old mother lives far from the only shop that sells the uniform her daughter needs. As soon as the uniform is made available, Maher needs to hit the shop as early as possible to find the right sizes for her child before stocks run out.
“Sometimes, in the middle of the school year, I need to buy new pants or shirt but the shop no longer has the uniform in stock! Yet, I have to conform to the uniform defined by the school. So I look for second-hand pieces from older students to buy.”
This is not only Maher’s nightmare, but a problem of many parents who have children registered in private schools.
Confronting the uniform monopoly
Mahmoud Ramadan recently purchased a school uniform for the first time for his 6-year-old son.
The experience was easier than he expected, yet quite expensive.
“I had to pay EGP 1300 in total, which is a bit more than what I expected, but I know that next year I will not be paying this amount,” says Ramadan.
Earlier this week, The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA), in coordination with the Ministry of Education, issued a statement in an attempt to confront what has become a monopoly on school uniforms, and help parents and students access higher quality uniforms at lower costs.
Head of the ECA Amir Nabil highlighted in the aforementioned statement that the ECA and Ministry of Education had issued instructions to help ease the current crisis and respond to the complaints of the parents.
“I have two daughters, both in an international school. Yet, every year I only have one shop that I am urged to go buy from,” 37-year-old Rania Magdy tells Ahram Online.
Magdy, who lives in Cairo’s upper-middle class Heliopolis, explained that the uniform quality has always been very low, and yet the cost of just one piece is often around EGP 200.
“Other than the low-quality high prices issue, I sometimes go to buy the uniform my older daughter and I don’t find her size. This happens every year,” explained Magdy.
The ECA, which issues non-binding guidelines, has urged schools against directing parents to buy uniforms from certain suppliers, or only the school itself. It has also called on all schools to not enter into agreements or sign any contracts with specific suppliers, since this is an act which violates articles 7 and 8 of the law regulating fair competition.
Parents who enrol their children into public schools face a less complicated situation.
35-year-old worker Samia Mohamed, who lives in working-class district of Boulaq, said that her 15-year-old daughter is in her first year secondary school and the required uniform is simple, meaning it can be brought from a range of shops.
“I just go to El-Wekala, a downtown marketplace that sells clothing with lower prices, and I easily find the long blue skirt and the white t-shirt that my daughter wears to her school,” explained Mohamed.
Yet, she noted that higher-quality clothing required for the uniform are found in biggerm, well-known stores at higher prices.
A need for more than one supplier
Across Egypt’s 7000 private schools, some administrations define the uniform required for all students to wear; however, there have also been some private international schools who do not define a particular uniform for their students.
In many cases, private international schools sell their own uniforms at their stores, thus becoming the sole supplier.
Egypt currently has 75,000 schools: 49,000 public schools, 7,000 private schools, 750 experimental schools and 250 international schools.
Wael William, a supplier to more than one private national school, states that he ensures he is not the ole supplier for more than five Catholic schools.
“I have been working in this field for the past 50 years, I don’t like what many other stores do in terms of urging customers to buy from only their store. My customers come to buy from me because of the quality and style of the uniforms we supply,” explains William.
The Catholic School supplier explained that there has been a rise in the number of suppliers providing the same products that William offers.
39-year-old Irini Maher, a mother of two daughters, enrols her children in one of the Catholic schools that William supplies uniforms to.
Maher told Ahram Online that “nowadays there are many shops where she can purchase the required uniform for her daughters.”
“Five years ago, we had no option but buy the outfit from one store, and it was very expensive and had many defaults,” says Maher, “but nowadays, I have started to deal with other shops and individuals who have started to working in this field and providing uniforms of better quality and for less money.”
The ECA has demanded that all schools in Egypt set objective specifications for school uniforms, in order to enable parents and students to purchase uniforms from different sources without restrictions.
Meanwhile, Mubarak Al-Osseimi, the spokesperson to the Ministry of Education, which has legal enforceent powers over all schools, warned schools and stores last week from establishing monopolies and inflating prices for equipment and uniforms.
“All private and foreign schools must abide by the rules of tuition fees, including unspecifiyng places for school uniforms or textbooks, in order to prevent monopoly and to be available at reasonable prices,” Al-Osaimi said in a tweet.
The ECA highlighted that it would be monitoring the market and would be seeking feedback from parents for further actions.