*** schools education: national trends-- Asia

Schools: National Trends--Asia

Figure 1.--This is the national flag raising ceremony in a primary school. This ceremony is held every day before classes begin. The large flag held by the older boy (wearing the school winter uniform) is the Chinese Young Pioneer flag. The younger boy holds the national flag.

HBC has not yet done much work on Asian school uniforms. As in Africa, uniform styles have been very strongly influenced by European styles. The Japanese and Koreans have adopted a variety of different European styles from English sailor suits to Prussian cadet iniforms. British fashions have been very imprtant in former colonies like India, Hong Kong, Malausia, Singapore, and Sri Lanks. The Chinese adopted some unique styles, but today uniforms are little worn and the clothes children wear generally have western styling. The Islamic revival has affected school fashions in countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. The poverty of many Asia countries has meant many families could not afford school uniform, but economic conditions improved markedly in the late 20th century.


Afghanistan has go through some wrenching political changes in recent years. These changes have affected clothing standards because of the extrenme attitudes od Islamic conservatives toward clothing. Afhgan boys do not wear school uniforms. They do, however, wear some distinctive fashions to school.


Modern Armenia is one of the former Soviet Republics. We do not yet have information about Armenia during the Soviet era or schools in independent Armenia. We note the Armenian Sisters Academy in 2005 which a HBC reader tells us is a school in the Unuted States. One photograph shows the children wearing smocks.


We have no information about Bangladesh education before the British Raj. The modern education system was founded by the British. Nangladesh becam independent after World War II as part of pakistan (1947). We have know information on schools during this period. The country became independent as part of a bloody civil war and Indian intervention (1971). The Bangladesh Government gives a high priority to education, but the country's poverty means that resources are limited. The country's goal of 'Education for All'. The education system has four levels: Primary (grades 1 to 5), Secondary (grades 6 to 10), Higher Secondary (grades 11 to 12), and tertiary (university and other post-secondary programs. The state sysyem conducted in the Bangla language, The country's official language is Bangla, sometimes referred to as Bengali. It is the first language of more than 98 percent of the population. (In sharp cotrast to Indiaith its multiplicity of languages.) It is written in its own script, derived from that of Sanskrit. A small number of peopkle speak Urdu, many of whom emigrated from India after partition. Private schools are mostly taught in English. They offer 'A' level and 'O' level courses based on the British system. There are also Madrasa religious schools which are taught in Arabic and focus on Islam. This system is supervised by a Madrasa Board. We are not sure to what extent the Madrasa program differs for boys and giurls. Hindus and Buddhists also receive religious education at institutes called Tol and Chatuspathi, but unlike the Madrasas these do not replace the basic state education. Government policy mandates compulsory primary education, free education for girls up to grade 10, stipends for female students, food-for educational total literacy movement, and nationwide integrated education.


Tucked away in the Eastern Himalayas is the small mountain kingdom of Bhutan. It was virtaually unknown to the Western world until the 20th century. Until this time there was no secular education. A small number of boys were schooled in Budhist monastaries. Western secular education was introduced by Bhutan's first mpdern king, Ugyen Wangchuck (1907-26). The British helped set up the royal government. Education was, howver, very limited. Private schools were set up in Ha and Bumthang. More private schools began to operate (1950s), with and without Government support (1950s). This brough some secular schooling to the major district towns. Is it at this time the Government beagan the first tentative steps to build a public school system. One source reports 29 government and 30 private primary schools, educating about 2,500 children (late-1950s. There were no secondary schools. To continue their education, young people had to go to neighboring India. The Government moved to gain comntrol of private schools, reprtedly to impriove education standards (1960s). The first majo effort to fond a public school system was the First Development Plan (1961-66). Education authorities reported 108 primary schools with some 15,000 students.



After World War II, European colonies looked to the future and what they were sure would be independence and properity which would be insured by socialism. Today we here nothing but invictive about colonialism, nucg of it deserved. Almost never said is how the new indepence leaders turned prosperous colonies into povery stricken contries. Burma is one of the best examples. Burma before World War II was a British colony which along with India granted independence after the War. The Burmese and many others expected it to be one of the Asian suscess stories. Just the opposite occurred. There would be spectacular successes in Asia, but Burma would not be one of them. And nothing shows this better than the unravlling of a once impressive education system. Burma before the War and Japanese invasion was admired for the widespread literacy and high educational standards. It had one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. Both the economy and education system slowly crumbled under the socilist economy introduced and the authoritarian rule. Burma's educational system is now one of the weakest in the region. The United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, ranks Burma an incredibe 164th, out of 168 countries in terms of expenditure on education -- only 1.3 percent of its GDP on education. [UNESCO, 2001.] As a result, the omce proud education system has disintegrated. An remember that Burma had an education system before independence and many of the countries that now rank above Burma had no substantial public education systems at the time of independence. Burmese children spend relatively little time in school. Only handful rach university. And university students not only face high fees, but are not allowed to select their field of study. Government officials assign courses based on test scores of matriculation exam. Stident interest and desires and the availability of jobs are ignored. [Fink, p. 197.] We do not yet have a page on Burmese schools. We do note St Paul's High School a Catholic school in Rangoon established duringbthe British colonial period. We have a class photo taken in 1957 and a photo showing a Catholic group at the school in 1955. We do not know if the school still exists.


Camodian education was traditionally a function of the wats (Buddhist temples). There was no tradition of secular educatyion. This mean that education was centered on religion and restricted to a relatively small part of the population. Only boys were educated in the wats. Cambodia was nearly devestated by invading Thai and Vietnamese armies. King Noradom requested French intervention (1854) which ended the wars with Thailand and Vietnam and ushered in a period of French colonial control. The French oversaw major improvements in the country's infrasructure, but gave little attention to other areas such as education. This was in part a decesion not to disrupt traditional Kymer society. The French did not address the need for a modern education system until the 20th century. French colonial officials enacted the Law on Education (1917). This introduced a basic primary and secondary education system modelled somewhat on the French system. It was not, however, a mass education syste, It was an elitist designed to educate a very small part of the population, basically to meet the needs of the French colonial system and not the Kymer people. The creation of a mass education system did not come until independence (1955).


Chinese school children in the 2000s all wear uniforms. The uniforms are seasonabl, depending on where the school is located in China. The summer uniforms usually consist of short pants and a shirt in the same style, sometimes in quite gaudy colours. Sailor collars are frequent for girls. One favourite style is a coloured suit with piping in white or a contrasting colour. Children used to wear their school uniforms with red Young Pioneer scarves, but this is now less common.

Hong Kong

Hong Komg being a former British Colony, school uniforms are modelled very much along the lines of British schools, however it must the said the Chinese are noted for their liking of uniforms also. Almost without exception all boys of primary/junior school age wear shorts for school. Most schools have two uniforms, summer and winter uniforms.


We do not yet have detailed information on Indian schools. As best we can determine. the vast majority of schools in India, both public and private alike, do have a mandatory school uniform policy in grades 1-12. I am not sure how strictly uniforms are enforced in rural schools, but school uniforms appear to be strictly enforced in urban schools. We would be interested in any information that Indian readers could provide us. We have information on a private school in India-- La Martiniere .


We have very little information about Iranian schools at this time. We know nothing about schools in ancient Persia. With the Arab invasion and Islamization (8h century), edication was confined lrgly to the mosque. Literacy rates were very low into the modern era. The clergy (both Shia and Sunni, assumed responsibility for instructing interested youth (mean boys) in basic literacy and the fundamentals of Islam. Literacy was not seen as needed by the enire population. Thus any kind of serious education was limited to the sons of the upper class. This woud mean a few years of what might be caled primary-level education in a school (maktab). These were attached to local mosques. Those who desired more advanced schooling could continue studies in a religious college (madraseh) with aider curciculum but still confined primrily to Islam. This situation was oprt of the general bckwardnesses theougout the Muslim world fromMorocco east to central Asia where society were little changed since medievl times. With the advent of the 19th century, some Persians saw the obvious need for subjects beyond the scope of the traditional religious curriculum (accounting, European languages, mathematics, science, and technology) led to the Government establishment the first secular school (1851). It might be called a university, but teaching was more on the secionry level because of the limited eductional preparation of the students. This was for years the only institution of higher education in the country. The first modern primary school was founded by Haji Mirza Hassan Tabrizi . Yzed about 1908. It was not until the Pahlavi era (1925-79) that the Government made aserious beginning at building building a modern education system. This was part of wide ranging political and cultural reforms. The Government began modernizing and expanded the education system. The Ministry of Education (MOE) was assigned responsibility for regulating all public and private schools. The MOE prepared a uniform curriculum for primary and for secondary education. The public system was established as secular, largely on the French model. The goal was to begin to train Iranians for technical positions needed in a modern economy (administration, management, science, and teaching). This basic education reform began the creation of substantial secularized middle class. It also began the education of girls for the first time. While this opriocess was limited by the cost, after World War II when the oil money began to increase the capabilities, major advances began to be mase in public education. The Islamic Revolution reversed the policy of secular education. Islam became a major component of Iranian education at all levels at a prerequisite for university studies.


We do not yet have much information about Isreali schoolwear. Isreali school children have not worn uniforms. Fashions were influenced by the generally European origins of most Isrealis. Early images mostly show boys wearing short pants. Climate was another factor. Fashions since the 1970s have generall been the same as the American-influenced pan-European fashions worn in Europe, again affected by the climate. A HBC reader describes the experiences at one school in 1979. We also note the first day of school at an Isreali primary school. The children all wear sport casual styles. Sandals seem very popular. We also see very large book packs.


Japan has undergone sweeping changes in the past century, emerging from a feudal society to an industrial powerhouse. This journey took western countries a millenium but the Japanese negotiated the sweeping social changes in only a century. One thing remained constant throughout that journey until well into the 1980s. Japan's much-lauded modern education system is considered by many to have been one of the key elements in the country's emergence as a highly industrialized nation. Industry has long have recognized the value of broadly trained workers. Landed aristocrats often want to restrict education, byt industrial planners see the need for an educated--if not always well paid work force. And Japan in the late 19th century was determined to industrialize. Individuals likewise saw education as the means to achieve personal advancement. In the Japanese system, where one attends school largely determines one's ultimate social status and financial success. As a result, students from a young age work extremely hard to qualify for the best possible schools.The Japanese paid extraodinary attention to attire fitting one's station in life. Artists, teachers, businessmen, housewives, young unmarried women, athletes all have their instantly recognizable ways of dressing--and when the country's public education system was established, this was applied to children as well. For secondary school students, that meant Prussian cadet uniforms for boys and English sailor suits for girls. Japan was the only major country to outfit its school children in military uniforms. And for younger boys, school uniforms meant short pants. The Japanese at the on set of public education strongly believed in uniforms for both elementary and secondary school children and this tradition continues unabated.

Korea, North

South and North Korea shared the same history until the Japanese defeat in World War II. As agreed previously, the Soviets occupied Korea north of the 38th paralell and the Americans to the south. The Soviets installed a Communist dictatorship in the north which coninues today. We have bery little information about North Korean schools. Images available from the early 2000s show coordinted white and blue uniforms for boys and girls.

Korea, South

The first "modern" Korean schools were established in 1880, mainly by Christian missionaries. The advancement of Korea's educational system was delayed, however, first by Japan's colonial rule (1910-45) and second, by the Korean War (1950-53). Since then, it has progressed rapidly, and Korea today has a literacy rate of 98%, one of the highest in the world. (hurray!). Korean schools (1-12) place far above the US ones in international standardized exams, especially for math and science.) Short cut short pants were not as commonly worn by Korean school boys as was the case in Japan. Secondary school uniforms, however, are similar to Japanese styles. Unlike Japan, there are no private schools in Korean and even private tutoring until recently has been illegal.



We have no information on Lebanese schools at this time. France played an important role in Lebanon. Lebanon had been a part of the Ottomon Empire until the British drove them out at the end of World War I. France created a protectorate for Lebanon and thus help found the modern school system. While we have little information on Lebonese schools at this time, we do have some information on the French schools in Lebanon. French schools in Lebanon appear to have been very insistant that boys and girls wear snocks to school. Smocks also appear to have been commonly wirn in the state schools. This appears to have been a common pattern in many Arab countries.


Formal education in Malaysia seems to have begun with the arrival of Islam. Sekolah Pondok (hut schools), madrasahs and other Islamic schools are the earlist known schools in Malaysia. The curruculm was basically religious and focused heavily on menorizing Koranic verses. Secular education bergan with the arrival of the British (early-19th century). These schools were mostly founded in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Melaka, and Singapore. The oldest English-language school is the Penang Free School (1816). It wasn't until after World War II, however, that the Malaysians began to build a modern public eduvation system. The country's economic success has enabled it to build a fine public school system. An achievement which in turn has been a factor in the country's economic growth. Today the country has reduced iliteracy to low levels and has made enormous progress in pub;ic education, including the education of girls. School uniforms are compulsory in Malaysia, showing the British influence. Malaysia's population is about 50 percent ethnic Malay, all Muslim. The rest are ethnic Chinese (mostly Christian or Taoist) and ethnic Tamil (mostly Hindu). Chinese and Indian boys wear short pants to school--usually as part of simple uniforms of white short-sleeved shirts and navy blue short pants. However, the Malay boys wear navy long pants. The Islamic dress code (veils for women) specifically prohibts men (and presumably boys) from showing knees in public. The boys do not wear blazers because it is too hot.


Manchukuo was the Japanese puppet state set up in Manchuria after the Japanese Army seized the province from China (1931). We have little information on school uniforms yet, but we do have some information on the schools run by the Japanese. There were seperate schools for Chinese and Japanese children, with Chinese children given inferior schools and education. All the teachers were Japanese and instruction was in Japanese. Children were forbidden to speak Chinese in school. Discipline was very strict. The Sovierts at the end of World War II seized Manchukuo from the Japanese and returned it to China (1945).



Nepal is a small Mimalayan country wedged between India and Tibet. It was controlled by the Gurkas when the British seized control of India (18th century). Nepal signed treaties with the British, but Nepal was never incorporated into the British Raj. Britain recognized the country's complete independence (1923). We know very little about Neoalese schools, but we note children wearing school uniforms with an obvious British look.


A pakistani reader has provided us a brief introduction about school uniform code in Pakistan. The Pakistani education system is divided into three broad categories: a) the english-medium system, b) the urdu-medium system, c) the religious madressahs.


Modern Singapore has one of the world's finest education systems. It is an important element in the country's phenomenal economic performance as one of the Asian Tigers. The key element of course is free market capitalis, but an effective education system enables a broad spectrum of the country's young people to participate in the economic oportunities created by one of the most viabrant economies in Asia. Sinapore education is a kind of melding of secular British education and high academic styandards with traditional Chinese respect for learning and scholarship. It proved to be a model for China. Deng Xiaoping from an rarly point began to talk about Singapore and the other Asian tigers. Sinngaporr has excellent publuc schools in addition to many fine private schools. Almost all Singapore school children wear school uniforms. The tradition is very well established. They are required by the Government at state schoolds, although the Government does not mandate the style ad color. Singapore was a former British colony and school uniforms were well established in the colonial era. Uniforms were furing the colonial period the traditional British school boy uniforms. Modern Singapore uniforms are more casual than the traditional English styles. Given the warm climate, boys wear short pants and open-necked shirts.

Sri Lanka

Education in Sri Lanka has been affected by political and religious trends. The Aryan Indian Prince Vijaya conquered Sri Lanka who estanlished a Singhalese kingdom (6th century BC). Buddhism reached Sri Lanka (3rd century BC) and became the dominant religion. Anuradhapura became a great Buddhist religious site and important educational center. Unlike India itself, Hinduism did not supplant Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The education system of Sri Lanka until colonial times was primarily controlled by Buddhist monks and designed for a small elite. The Mogol emperors of India never conquered the country are brought Islam. Arab traders arrived (12-13 th century). The Portuguese estanlished comntrol over coastal areas (16th century). The Dutch seized control (1658). The British seized the Dutch and native settlements during the war associated with the French Revolution and Napoleon. The British introduced modern secular education. The British colony was known as Ceylon. The country achieved its independence within the British Commonwealth (1948). The current name of Sri Lanka was adopted. Sri Lanka's current education has a strong British imprint.


School uniforms are commonly worn in Thailand. The uniforms at a typical school is a white shirt and black or kahki short pants for a boys and white middy blouse, dark blue skirt, and dark blue bow for a girls. However each schools has there own distinctive uniforms.


Tajikistan is a central Asian country, one of the new countries resulting from the break up of the Soviet Union in 1992. Until this, Tajik students wore standard Soviet school uniforms. We do not have a great deal of information on modern Takijistan. A HBC reader in Tajikistan has provided us some information about Tajik school uniforms and school life after independence. Because of the Soviet era, Tajik schools share many similarities with Russian schools. We notice some school schools with uniforms od sweaters, white shirts, and long pants. Colors vary from school to school. There is no nationwide school uniform.


Japan acquired Taiwan in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). Japanese rule was represive, but it also included prograns to modernize the islands. This included both infrastructure and to build a public school syste, Until the Japanese invasion, Taiwn whicgh the Japanese called Formosa . Japan introduced the first modern schools to island and the pattern was similar to that of the adminintration of Korea. The schools were taught in Japanese. When China took control after World war II, Taiwan unlike most of China had a modern eduction system. This and free market capitalism are factors in why both South Korea and Taiwan became ecconomic powerhouses in Asia--two of the Asian Tigers. Economic success and a government emhasis on education has enabled Taiwan to build a fine public school system. Taiwan now has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. The Government estimates that about 93 percent of the population is literate. School attendance is compulsory and free for the first 9 years of school. Private schools educate a relatively small part of the scghool-age population, largely because of the high-quality of the state system. The intense pressure in the state system, as in Japan has given rise to cram schools (buxiban). The compulsory school system included 6 years of primary school and 3 years of junior high school. Local government is responsible for teacher salaries. There are no school fees in the public schools and text books are provided free. Parents are respionsible for school supplies. The Government conducted a major curriculum change, substantially increasing the math and sciene component (1968). This was in line with the rapidly developing economy. Students to enter senior high school must pass a qualifying examination. Over 90 percent of the children satifactorily pass the examination. There are both academic and senior secondary schools. In addition to academic high schools the students can persue agriculture, engineering, commerce, maritime navigation, home economics, and nursing in vocational schools. Results are impressive, Taiwanese children regularly score at orvnear the top of children in international rankings in math and science.


Tibet is a central Asian country wjich was conquered by China (1720). China has since claimed soverignity, although often only nominally. The Communist government invaded Tibet and has since increased its control over Tibet and promoted the migrantion of ethnic Chinese into Tibet. The Tibetian pobulation is very traditional and there have been perodic uprisings put down by the Chinese. We know little about traditional Tibetian education. The Chinese have developed a modern education system along the lines of the pveral Chinese education system. The Tibetian schools are totally controlled by the Chinese Government.


Elementary boys in Turkey wear smocks, generally blue smocks with white Peter Pan collars, and long pants. I'm not sure, however, just when this fashion was first instituted. Secondary school students also wear uniforms, but I do not yet have details on the style.


Turkmenistan is the southern-most of the former Soviet 'stans' or Soviet central Asian republics. We havebeen able to find very little information about education in the pre-Soviet era. Education was very limited. Ilitracu\y was almost universal among women and very high among men. Those Turkmens that were literated were educated in traditional Muslim schools, mostly in Bukhara and Khiva. The schools were associated with mosques. There was no state schools or secular education of any time. The curriculum was mostly built around the Koran and other Islamic texts. Mesorization of Koranic verses was a major part of instruction. This situation was prevalent throughout Central Asia. This is one reason why life in Central Asia ws basically unchanged fir centuries. The Tsarist Empire conquered the area (late-18th century). They did not, however, introduce Western secular education. One source reports a few of New Method schools set up by Muslim reformers (Jadids) in Kerki, Chardzhou (now Chärjew), and other towns. Even after the collapse of the khanates during the Russian Civil War (1920), traditional Islamic education continued. Soviet authorities began to close the traditional Islamic schools with new secular schools (1928). This was one aspect of Stalin's atheism campaihn. Only with the new Soviert schools did literacy ratebegin to increase abd fir thefirst time girls were educated in large numbers.


we know little about early education in Uzbekistan. Uzbek officials point to a Chinese scholar, Suan Tsan, who reported 5-year old boys in Samarkand being taught how to read, write and count. These boys then persued business and trade on silk road caravans. We have little information about education in the ensuing 1,000 yesrs but education appears to have been very limited, confined primarily to Islamic madrassas. Girls were not educated at all. Boys at the madrassas memmorized Koranic verses and other Islamic texts. Lessons were primarily chanting verses and boys who did not learned the verses were beaten. The Russian invasion (1868) brought modern education to Uzbekistan for the first time. The Russian Revolution brought a atheism campaign. Islam and other religions were percecuted and madreasses were shut down. The education of girls was promoted. Uzbekistan became independent after the disolution of the Soviet Union (1992). One of the first laws passed by independent Uzbekistan was the Education Law (June l992). Uzbekistan today has a very young population as a result of a high birth rate, a reflection of the country's still rural population. The Government reports that children, teenagers, and young people under the age of 25 comprise approximately 60 percent of the total population. The authoritarian Government, however, has mismanaged the economy. Only limited funds are available to finance a nodern education system and few jobs are beding created for graduates as a result of the country's boribund population. There are about 1 million kindergarten children and 5 million school children. About one-third of the primary children go on to academic secondary schools or trade sdchools.


We have only limited information on Vietnamese education at this time. We know nothing about tradition education bfore the French colonial era. The French intrduced a modern education system, but a limited one. The French made no effort to build a mass education system, but rather a small system aimed primarily at training an elite to help run the colonial administration. A Vietnamese student has provided us information about the country's current education system.

Unknown Countries

Public schools were a Western inovation that Asian countris obly began implemnting with indondence adter World War II. Japan was the only Asian country to launch apublic school system. Thy did not at first have uniforms, but gradually did so. They influenced uniform styles in Korea and Taiwan. China of course had an education system, but only for the elite seeking positions in the imperial service. The European colonial powers promoted the establishment of some schools, but only for a relatively small minoity. The Americans did this in the Philippines, but none of the European powers did this. Missionaries played oler un the chools. A few had European styled uniforms. Clothing at these schools help to identify them. We have not been able to identiffy all of the school images we have found. Of course ethnicity is helpful, but not always definitive even if we are able to identify the particular ethnicity involved. After independence we see the developmnt of public chool systems throughout Asia. Unlike Europe, many Asian countries Adopted school uniforms which are also helpful in identifying the countries involved.


Fink, Christina. Living Silence in Burma.



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Created: June 20, 1998
Last updated: 2:18 AM 3/17/2022