It is a rare feeling when nostalgia turns into a back pain (literally). My school bag had been a victim a lot of verbal abuse and it seemed to retaliate back every next day with a newer and a heavier weight. Heavy bags were sometimes a coincidence but most of the time it was a compulsion. The weight of bags are supposed to be 10% of the body weight but the trend shows that school going students carry much more than that. Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry points out that 63% of school children from the age group of 7-13 years are at the risk of suffering from backaches, degeneration of spine, spondylitis, spondylolisthesis, postural scoliosis and hunchbacks. The concern is when did we allow cute school bags to be so hazardous? Did it ever have to be problematic? Are the solutions affordable? The cures are as obvious as the problem itself.
First of all what are the kids carrying in these bags which weight almost 45% of their weight?
Students in India spend 7 – 8 hours in school a day, which is 42-48 hours per week (excluding Sundays), which is almost 14 days a month and 168 days out of 365 days a year. Clearly it is a large part of a child’s life. As Jack is not always expected to work, schools are not always expected to be a place for only reading and writing. A reason why this 10% turns to 45% is because school bags do not always carry books but also sport kits, lunch boxes, laptops, swim bag, art kit etc.
Even when the bags do not carry any other ‘non-academic’ equipment the number of subjects on the same day also crosses the 10% limit. One working day at school almost has an hour allotted to each 7 or 8 subjects which is not only too demanding but also irrational. Given different types of students in a class, different types of subjects and the type of teacher, the attention span of different students are not the same. Human brain can sustain attention to a particular subject for just 20 minutes. School curriculum is not structured keeping in mind the human memory as 50%-80% of what is taught in class is not retained. Therefore dragging on a lecture about a particular subject for an hour and that too for different subjects is senseless. Therefore the weight of the bag is not proportionate to the amount of knowledge gained.
Is it a compulsion to bring all the books every day? No child wants to carry a 45% of his weight on his back because it is fun! The problem lies with the huge syllabus that needs to be covered, different sets of notebooks for every subject that needs to be carried and no locker systems in schools. Also the subjects that need books (Maths, Science and History) are much more than the subjects which do not require books (Games, Moral science) in the school curriculum. Therefore it becomes mandatory to carry huge amount of weight of books every single day to school.
So shall we blame the education system again?
The answer is affirmative and not at the same time. The effect of the weight on the body is also dependent on the design of the bag. A heavy bag with thinner straps put a lot of weight on the shoulders and the back. A bag with strongly padded straps, padded back, adjustable shoulder straps and also suiting the size of the student helps reducing the burden from the back to an extent. The heaviest items should be packed closest to the student’s spine which helps comfort and balance the load. Students must check their timetable regularly so that they do not bring the books which are not required for a particular working day. School infrastructure can also aid by providing locker systems not just for books but also for sport kits, art kits, tools etc.
Speaking off the education system, it definitely needs alteration not only for reducing the burden of school bags but also improve the quality of teaching and learning. The school curriculum must be designed keeping in mind the attention span of the students, retention capacity and also the type of teaching. The length of the curriculum will be simply of no point if it is not retained in the memory of the student! Books can feed for a livelihood but not always for life. As the school is a place where a child spends more than half of his childhood, it is responsible for moulding a lot more than just an ambition. Many schools in the world still do not teach many skills which are required in our day to day adult ambitious lives. Skills like having a conversation, critical thinking, budget management, handling personal and professional relationships, how to survive without technology, home repair, car repair, cooking, handling hazardous substances like cylinders, knives, guns, healthcare, self defence, motivating oneself, first aid, time management etc are not taught. These skills do not need books, exams to qualify and are without any debate an essential part of our lives. Incorporating such skills with the time table will not only reduce the load of bags but also develop responsible, sensible and prosperous future of the world. If that seems impossible in the world we are living in then guess what? Finland is No. 1 in the Global Education Rank in the world giving us many Nobel laureates when there is no homework for students, with only 3-4 (including lunch hours) hours of school hours a day and a curriculum that includes carpentry, cooking, playing musical instruments etc. Can this reality be so unaffordable?
Sometimes we must ask deeper questions about ‘learning’. We think that we learn because we look at our qualifications, our books and our medals. Let us think it in this way – fire was never invented with the use of books nor was the wheel and those led to human civilization. Now we are all part of a world of books and we are letting it reduce to a mechanical world which finds no zeal for inspiration and no encouragement for innovation. Heavy bags are just an accessory to the answerless-ness of stupidity that is energizing a vague present and future. There are still a lot of questions to be asked and answers to be found. The concern is that we start measuring our affordability to do the right thing. Let right things remain priceless as it always were and let our future responsible citizens have a more meaningful and resourceful present.