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October 22, 2019

The burden of bags


October 22, 2019

Across the country schoolchildren, some no more than seven years old, can be seen staggering towards their schools carrying bags that are obviously too heavy for their frail bodies. This is a common situation in both government and private schools, with teachers and school heads apparently unconcerned about the burden borne by the children who sometimes walk several kilometres to reach their school. It is only the elite who transport their children to the school gates in automobiles of various kinds.

There have been warnings before from health experts that the weight of school bags is dangerous for children. These warnings, which continue to be repeated, state that a child up to the age of 14 years should not be carrying more than 10 percent of his body weight. It is believed that many of the bags weigh up to four times that amount. Quite obviously solutions need to be found, and they will come only if there is greater parental awareness and greater pressure placed on schools. The education department too should consider laying some guidelines on schoolbags for government schools and where feasible ordering that lockers be set up in all educational institutions so that children do not have to bring in all their books and accessories on a daily basis. Lockers are the norm at schools in most developed countries and at a few schools in our country as well. Aside from this there should also be a look at the curriculum to determine how many books a small child needs. It should not be necessary for a child at primary level to require multiple books, since portions of the curriculum can be combined in a single book if it is designed thoughtfully and with the purpose of encouraging enquiry rather than learning by rote.

The dependence on memorizing entire passages of text and even mathematical equations is one of the factors which require children to obtain and transport so many books to school and back again regularly. This is a part of the flaw in the structure of our education system and not a problem that exists in isolation. It does however need to be remedied as part of the process of making schools safe and also enjoyable places for children rather than centres of suffering and rigour. A child who learns to take pleasure in the process of acquiring new knowledge will in the longer run prove to be a better student and quite possibly a better person. This is where the emphasis should lie. Ridiculously heavy schoolbags can play no role in this.

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