“I need a new school bag, Mum.”


“I need a new school bag, mum,” says my 12-year-old daughter. “The straps on the one I have are torn and about to give way.”

“You can’t be serious!” is my astonished response. I recall the argument I had with her father when he bought her the fashionable Converse bag just seven weeks ago.

I said a cheaper version would have done the job just as well; he argued that the better-quality, more-expensive brand would last her for years and be better value. I have a look at the bag and concede she’s right. Not two months of use and it’s fit for the bin.

The reason? The astonishing weight of books that growing 12-year-olds are expected to carry to school every day. This haul often passes the two-stone mark. It’s beyond crazy.

That’s before adding extras such as lunch or gym gear. But broken bags are the least of our children’s problems – broken backs is what I’m worried about.

bagtooheavy“We all have sore backs in school,” my daughter groans. “One girl had to go home yesterday, hers was so bad.”

I picked up the overloaded bag one morning, tried to sling it on to my back and nearly collapsed.

What effect is carrying such a weight – 40 minutes’ total walking to and from school each day – having on the developing spine of my daughter? She tells me many of her friends can’t walk or cycle to school because of the weight of their bags.

The introduction of huge workbooks instead of copies for many subjects has increased the weight – and the cost – of books immeasurably. It also means they can’t be passed on to siblings.

Is it all a money-making exercise?  Who does it benefit? Retired teachers who earn extra cash writing new textbooks? Irish publishers who have a ready market each year? A market worth €55m?

It doesn’t benefit parents, who pay more than €450 for books for first-year students. And it doesn’t benefit students, crippled from lugging these books to and from school.

Some schools have book rental schemes, many don’t. Tablets or iPads have been introduced in a few schools, but they’re expensive and fragile.

My daughter has suggested that  textbooks should be split into yearly parts (many three-year curriculum subjects are combined in one book), thus lowering the weight by a third, and that teachers could give photocopies of workshop texts for homework, rather than the students having to carry all their books in and out of school each day.

Earlier this year, an Oireachtas Joint Committee recommended banning workbooks and making the rental book scheme available in every school.

If implemented, this would be great news for kids and parents, and not so great for those who make money from writing and selling school books.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has been reluctant to make these recommendations mandatory for schools, but the consequences of not doing so is a generation of students with damaged vertebrae and increased obesity (as well as impoverished parents).

Won’t this cost the State even more in medical bills?

If any teacher or administrator employed by the department incurs injuries in the course of their educational duties they are, rightly, compensated for medical costs.

So, will the Department of Education pay the medical costs resulting from the damage being done to my daughter’s spine by an overweight schoolbag? Will they?

Source : http://www.independent.ie/opinion/carol-hunt-teachers-get-sick-cover-but-wholl-pay-for-our-bookcrippled-kids-29669203.html

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