Sunday, August 14, 2022

Is a heavy school bag justanother face of child labour?

A few days ago, I came across a primary school boy leaning under the weight of his school bag while going to school. It was visibly much bigger than himself. It looked very enormous for a tiny little boy of that age to be carrying that much weight upon his shoulders! I offered him a helping hand. As I got hold of his bag, one could only imagine how a kid who hardly would weigh 20kgs or so was carrying that 8-10kg (perhaps heavier) school bag! If I may, can I ask, “Are the children carrying bags of books or burdens?”
Indeed, it is nothing out of the ordinary for many of us because we are used to such sights. As a result, it neither bothers us nor gets our attention, which in reality is not only bothersome but disturbing. Many studies show that carrying a heavy school bag can have severe effects on a child’s back, shoulders and spine. It hampers their physical growth. As such, experts suggest that the weight of the school bag should be below 10 per cent of the body mass of the child. For instance, a child who weighs 20kgs should carry a school bag of less than 2kg (empty bag plus books).
This culture of heavy loads (bags) merits our attention and awareness. Some of the strategies which we can adopt to address this problem are:-

  1. Provisions for Locker Shelves.
    Schools may, in consultation and coordination with the parents, develop the necessary infrastructure and formulate policies and guidelines to provide locker shelves for students at school, where they can keep their books/belongings which aren’t required back at home on that particular day. Minimum service and maintenance fees may be exacted from the students for the same. It may not be made mandatory but voluntary.
  2. Students be Informed of the Books to be Brought.
    The contribution of the respective subject teachers in dealing with this problem would be immense. They can achieve this by keeping the students informed in advance about the books to be brought to the school on a particular day (because the teachers know on which days the students would be needing textbooks/notebooks).
  3. Discourage the Use of Bulky Notebooks.
    This can be done by the parents. They may buy notebooks keeping in mind the maximum weight of the bag their children can carry, without adding in excess load. In short, buy notebooks which are thinner and have fewer pages, not bulky/thick ones. If one gets over they can always get another one.
  4. Get the Kids the Right Kind of School Bag.
    Experts recommend the use of a school bag with two straps for the shoulders (e.g. backpack). This way the burden is evenly distributed on both shoulders and hence lessening the effects of carrying heavy bags.
  5. Strategy of One Subject One Notebook.
    Maintaining different notebooks for classwork, homework, class tests, etc. for a single subject appears novel and trendy but it is not only adding extra weight on the shoulders of the children but also an additional hole in the parents’ wallets. As far as feasible, the strategy of a notebook per subject may be encouraged.
  6. Formulate and Implement Policies and Strategies to Resolve the Problem.
    This can be done by the State Government or the mechanisms/agencies that look after the affairs of school education and the rights of children. In India, states like Odisha and Delhi have already started enforcing such policies of fixing the weight of school bags and the like to address the burden.
    Those few actions on the part of the schools, teachers and parents along with the State government can address, unpack and remove much of the weight that is crushing our children. So, let’s recognize, acknowledge and address this burden that is being carried by the school children to and from their school every day.
    Tali M Sashi Jamir

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