Heavy School Bags are a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of the students. It has a severe, adverse physical effect on the growing children which can cause damage to their vertebral column and knees. The school bag is a common cause of backache in school-going children. A heavy bag may cause a child to compensate by leaning his body forward and this can strain muscles in his neck, shoulders and back. The child may also find it difficult to put the bag on and take it off, or he falls frequently in school while carrying his schoolbag. It also causes anxiety in them. Moreover, in the schools which are functioning in multistoried buildings, the children have to go up the stairs with heavy school bags, which further aggravates the problem and health consequences. This heavy load is caused by the fact that the children are told to bring textbooks, guides, home work notebooks, rough work notebooks etc, to the classroom every day. If one tries to visualize the schooling process in the present time, one sees an image of a child with a bag on the shoulder. The very posture and the expression on the face of the child give an impression that the bag is very heavy for the child.
The school education system needs to have faith in the child’s agency. Children are natural learners. They learn more when they are stress free and are in a conducive learning environment. Learning under pressure makes them anxious and lose interest in learning. Their day to day life experiences, voices, questions, etc., need to be given adequate space in the classroom and new learning needs to be built upon that. This will make them understand the required concepts rather than rote memorizing. School system needs to offer basic required subjects at every stage as per the policy direction. More subjects and textbooks at all the stages in general and at the primary stage in particular create not only stress of studying but also discomfort carrying those textbooks to school making the bag heavy. Once the school system shifts from textbook dominated culture to learner-centric competence-based culture, the problem of heavy bags will automatically be addressed.
There have been several debates and discussion on the issue of heavy school bags, a cause of great concern for parents, children and school authorities for many years now. Child counselors, psychologists and educationists have often highlighted that heavy bags have negative consequences for the health and well-being of students and everyone agrees that the weight needs to be reduced. But despite several circulars issued to schools, students continue to carry the burden of homework and heavy schoolbags.
The new ‘Policy on School Bag 2020’ of the Union ministry of education recommends that the weight of the bag needs to be monitored on a regular basis in schools. They should be light-weight with two padded and adjustable straps that can squarely fit on both shoulders and no wheeled carriers should be allowed. School bags should not be more than 10% of the body weight of students across classes I to X. For example, If a child’s weight is 15 – 22 kg, bag weight should be 1.5 to 2.2 kg and there should be no homework till class II. The policy even recommends that the weight of each textbook may come printed on them by the publishers. "Schools will have to display bag weight charts on the notice board and in the classrooms and the school diary should also be included in the bag weight. The school management committee has to prepare timetables for students so that they are not required to bring all the books every day and their school bag weight does not cross the given limit", the notice states. The recommendations have been arrived based on various surveys and studies conducted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). The policy stated that data collected from 3,624 students and 2,992 parents from 352 schools, which include Kendriya Vidyalayas and state government schools were analysed. The ‘Policy on School Bag 2020’ made 11 recommendations on the weight of the bags, including adequate good quality mid-day meal and potable water to all the students so that they need not carry lunch boxes or water bottles. The policy also recommended that children with special needs be provided a double set of textbooks, through book banks in schools and lockers in classes for storing and retrieving books and other items.
The policy said there should be no bags in pre-primary. For classes I and II the bag weight range should be between 1.6 kg to 2.2 kg. Like-wise it should be 1.7 kg to 2.5 kg, 2 kg to 3 kg, 2.5 to 4 kg, 2.5 kg to 4.5 kg and 3.5 kg to 5 kg for classes III to V, classes VI and VII, class VIII, classes IX and X and classes XI and XII respectively. Recommending that total study time should be accounted for while planning the syllabus, the policy said while there should be no homework up to class II and a maximum of two hours per week for classes III to V, homework duration for classes VI to VIII should not exceed one hour a day and two hours a day for classes IX and above. The New School Bag Policy is a defining feature of the NEP in that it is consonant with the trend towards digilitisation of education, which was fast-forwarded in large measure due to the sudden onset of the COVID 19 pandemic. The dramatic disruption of school curriculum and schedules by the pandemic prompted the educational system to shift to online education and now it has become ubiquitous. The true impact of digital education and its benefits have become evident as online learning has taken off in a big way with wholehearted acceptance from the school community. Digital education is the way forward in solving many critical gaps in education and enhancing the experience and outcomes so that the student can go bag less.
As per NCF 2005, the school shall offer two languages and Mathematics in classes I & II; Two languages, Mathematics and EVS in classes III-V; Three languages, Mathematics, Science and Social Science in classes VI-VIII. Subjects such as Social Studies, Moral Education and General Knowledge need to be infused across subject areas and other activities in the school without additional textbooks. Health, Physical Education & Sports and Arts Education are the areas which help in the all round development of children. These need to be given adequate space in the time table. Children should not be allowed to carry any textbook for this area. For selecting the textbooks for children, the criterion of weight should be taken into consideration. Weight of the textbooks is to be printed on the textbooks by all the publishers along with the Grams per Square Meter (GSM).
As per the NEP 2020, students will take a fun course, during classes 6-8, that gives a survey and hands on experience of a sampling of important vocational crafts, such as carpentry, electric work, metal work, gardening, pottery making, etc., as decided by states and local communities and as mapped by local skilling needs. All students will participate in a 10- day bag less period sometime during Grades 6-8 where they intern with local vocational experts such as gardeners, potters, artists, etc. Bag less days will be encouraged throughout the year for various types of enrichment activities involving arts, quizzes, sports, and vocational crafts. Children will be given periodic exposure to activities outside school through visits to places/ monuments of historical, cultural and tourist importance, meeting local artists and craftsmen and visits higher educational institutions in their village/Tehsil/District/State. Single notebook is to be used for classes I & II for class work only. Two notebooks for classwork and homework for classes III-V. At a time, only one notebook shall be allowed in a child’s bag, the second one will be kept in school.
This is the perfect time to implement these recommendations under NEP 2020 where everyone from teachers to students to parents is now digitally trained for imparting and receiving education. There are so many applications and learning enabled software in place, which can now help students go to school bagless. With this policy in place, the way forward for schools should be to leverage the current situation and utilize it as an opportunity. Almost all the private and government schools have had to shift to online mode, with varying degree of success. Thanks to technology, not only can teaching learning happen digitally with help of great content, but homework and tests can all be conducted online with great ease, further reducing the need for students to carry textbooks to schools, lightening up their bags. Post Covid too, schools should follow the new blended learning model and enhance digital skills so that the learning should never stop at any point - be it holidays, winter or summer breaks or any other unforeseen events which can lead to loss of school days. The new school bag policy is a good move for many reasons. The school authorities should conduct a meeting at the beginning of the academic year to ensure fair distribution of textbooks so that it can be followed throughout the year. The schools can provide digital diaries to all the students. Besides this, the assignments and practice papers can be made available via email. Much of the paper work and the printed word can be simply transferred online or digital textual references.
Apart from the measures outlined above, schools need to give more emphasis on ‘learning by doing’ to enhance the creative skills of the student. Schools must work on building analytical skills and develop scientific acumen in the students. This will reduce dependence on textbook learning and will consequently reduce the reliance on bags. Moreover, it will allow students to be better time managers and utilize their time to learn new skills when they are at home. This policy will also require schools to introduce infrastructural changes. The introduction to the locker and storage facility at school can give students a place to safely keep their books and copies in school so that they can carry light school bags. In addition to lockers, schools can provide extra hours in the form of day boarding where students can spend more time with teachers and complete their homework in school.
If some of the measures are taken in right earnest, the school bag policy will certainly bring big relief to school children. It is a step towards changing the perception of studies literally being a burden. This policy will not only reduce the weight on their backs but it will also reduce the mental baggage they carry every day to schools. To sum up, the policy is to be seen as an attempt to rebalance the traditional teaching-learning mode by incorporating E-learning and promote the blended learning approach - the phygital model which is now accepted as the future of education. Schools have already accepted and acknowledged the need for technology in education – the time is right to move the learning experience from the physical to the digital sphere - and this policy is a move in the right direction.
Children are the future of the Nation. Their good health and stress free mind will contribute to nation building. Therefore, it needs to be made mandatory that every school irrespective of its management (Government or Private) ensures the implementation of School Bag Policy for the betterment of children.
(Author is a regular writer for this newspaper and can be reached at email@example.com