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Schools serve several purposes for the growth and development of the society and progress of humanity. A school is a site of socialization which fosters values such as discipline, confidence, teamwork and participation in children. In recent years, there have been serious discussions regarding the heavy weight of school bags. Almost all schools require children to carry heavy bags to school with books and other supplies. According to a survey by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) in 2016, around 68% of school children under the age of 13 are prone to back pain. Additionally, 88% of children between the ages of 7 and 13 carry more than 45% of their weight on their back. The study further predicted that burdensome backpacks could lead to disability in adulthood.[1]

This issue has been addressed at international, national and local levels through numerous initiatives, policies and regulations. In India, there have been various recommendations by several committees set up from time to time. A report by Ishwarbhai Patel Review Committee (1977) recommended decreasing the weight of school bags by excluding unnecessary or obsolete topics from the textbooks of Science and Social Science.[2]  In 1990, the National Policy on Education Review Committee emphasized innovative pedagogies and reforming the education pattern itself. It further suggested minimizing the use of textbooks and providing supplementary reading materials from the library instead. The National Advisory Committee, 1993 set up by Ministry of Human Resource and Development, stressed on the vast outdated curriculum as a major reason for the heaviness of the school bags. Not only that, it called attention to the mental stress faced by the students in the form of alienation from the content as well as context.[3]

The Children School Bags (Limitation on Weight) Bill, 2006 was presented in Rajya Sabha. As per the bill, the central government would direct the state governments to ensure that the weight of the school bags does not exceed the prescribed limit, i.e., 10% of the average body weight of the student. There would also be an audit of infrastructure of the schools as well as the daily timetables. The penalty for non-compliance with the Act was stipulated at &undefined; 3 lakh, followed by derecognization by the state government in case of subsequent violation. The bill is in the line of the international standard not only in measures of weight but also in terms of the practice of use of school bags.[4] However, it is pending in the upper house till date. Later, a committee formed by Directorate of Education (DOE), 2014, issued guidelines regarding timetables and the supplementary books students are asked to carry to school.

Although the issue has been raised several times since the 1970s, students continue to bear the burden of their bulky bags. This also indicates the negligence on the part of various stakeholders involved. The focus is more on increasing student enrollment than on providing quality education and creating a student-friendly learning ecosystem for their holistic development. The cut-throat competition among private schools themselves has only made things worse. In the race for money-making, the weight of school bags and the stress that students undergo takes a backseat. Parents also indirectly create a stressful and competitive atmosphere at home, expecting their children to be the best at everything. While admitting their child in a school, they consider factors such as reputation, social status, affordability, and location, but hardly demand facilities of locker system, flexible timetables, etc. Unfortunately, the weight carrying capacity of the child is again put to test as she/he has to also attend tuitions carrying the same books and homework.

It is not an exaggeration to state that is hardly an overstatement that all schools have failed to implement the guidelines and circulars recommended by various committees. There have been limited resources in terms of funds as well as infrastructure for creating lockers in the school. Simple steps such as use of worksheets rather than notebooks and registers can go a long way in reducing the weight of school bags. Digital education has become the buzzword of our times and private schools can afford to use computers and laptops instead of books. All schools must have lockers in place to store all extra books and textbooks. We surely don’t want their childhood to be submerged under the burden of books when an ocean of possibilities awaits our kids in the future.

 

 

[1] PTI (2016, September 06). Thanks to heavy school bags, 68 percent of children in India run risk of backaches and hunchbacks. The New Indian Express. Retrieved from http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2016/sep/06/Thanks-to-heavy-school-bags-68-percent-of-children-in-India-run-risk-of-backaches-and-hunchbacks-1516556.html

[2] Ishwarbhai Patel Review Committee (1977). Retrieved from http://www.teindia.nic.in/mhrd/50yrsedu/q/38/3V/383V0101.htm

[3] Yash Pal Committee Report (1993, July 15). Learning without Burden. 

[4] The Children School Bags (Limitation on Weight) Bill, 2006

Image Source: DNA India

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Written By Dhanashree Gurudu

She is a M.A Regulatory Governance post-graduate from Tata Istitute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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