Imagine going to school with just three books.
This would make school kids across India, and even college students downright envious, and possibly elicit feelings of retrospective deprivation among some of us adults.
It’s not for fun, however, that children in this lower primary school in Kerala are being told to bring just two or three books to class.
The decision is a remedy to a long-standing problem that children face as a result of the imposition of adult burdens on children: heavy school bags, a product of an education system that is often inconsiderate of their needs.
But students of at least one school in the country – the Punalur Tholicode Lower Primary School in Kollam district – are now free of this burden. They take just two or three books to school, under the ‘no-school bag system’ for which the government will spend around Rs 30 lakh. Soon, 10 more schools in the district will also adopt the new system.
Here’s how it works:
KG Abraham, the school’s headmaster told The News Minute, “Earlier, students in the school carried bags which weighed over 3 kg every day. Now think about the upper classes in CBSE and ICSE schools which have thicker books in their curriculum.”
He believes all schools, regardless of the syllabus they follow, should adopt this system. “We want to let our kids learn things without having to undergo any physical stress.”
The physical stress is very much present. The News Minute requested parents to weigh their children’s bags, and here’s what we found:
A Class 4 student in a CBSE school, whose weight would about 25kg on average, carries a bag that weighs 6.5 kg. Although it is well-known that kids under the state board syllabus have lesser books, Class 8 kids still carry 5 kg of books to school.
Calling overloaded bags a “healthcare timebomb”, Sean McDougall of BackCare told DailyMail in 2012 that such bags could have a long term effect on children.
“Children’s skeletons are still growing so carrying heavy bags can cause lasting damage. Many are carrying their bags on one shoulder or are increasingly carrying them on the crook of their elbow, so are placing a great strain on the spine,” he told Daily Mail.
Hardly surprising then, that they complaint of muscle problems, irreversible back deformities, backache, spondylitis, and even lung problems. Worryingly, the number of children with these problems is rising.
The idea of having no school bags isn’t new.
In 2015, a Maharashtra government committee submitted a report to the Bombay High Court, constituted a committee to study the problem and come up wit solutions. The committee found that over 58 per cent of school students below the age of 10 suffer from orthopaedic ailments.
When it submitted its findings to the court, the bench remarked: “soon children will have to carry trolley bags as the backpacks they carry at present is not enough”. The bench suggested that the government procure lockers in which students to could store an extra set of text books.
The Maharashtra government also put a limit on the weight of schoolbags carried by students: they would not carry more than 10 percent of their body weight.
What this basically means, as reported by Firstpost, is that "a Class 1 student whose average weight should be around 20.1 kg, should not carry a bag weighing any more than 2 kg. The prescribed weight of school bags for students of classes I to VIII is between 1,800 gms and 3,425 gms."
However, the Maharashtra government committee had found that children often carry over 20-30 percent of their body weight.
Despite all this, things remained the same.
In one case, two years ago, this excess weight pushed a child towards death, literally. India Today reported in 2013, that a Class 6 student of a school in East Delhi's Mayur Vihar area “fell to his death after losing balance while leaning over a railing due to the weight of his near-13 kg bag”.
While this was a rarity, several generations of children are growing up with permanant damage to their bodies, all because the adults responsible for their well-being want them to grow up too fast, so that they can join a world that doesn't really care about them.