That school bag is illegal

BENGALURU: The Jammu Kashmir High Court directing the government to ensure schoolchildren are not weighed down by their bags is a small victory in a struggle that started decades ago.

The ruling came on June 5 soon after schools reopened.

According to medical experts, children should lug no more than 10 per cent of their body weight. However, a study by an expert committee constituted headed by V P Niranjanaradhya found that bags Class 12 boys attending Kendriya Vidyalayas carry in Bengaluru weigh a staggering 12 kg.

On an average, girls’ bags, the survey with a sample size of about 1,000 students found, were lighter by 1.5 kg.

Long before this, eminent novelist R K Narayan raised this concern during his first speech in Rajya Sabha, after he had been nominated as a member.

Later, in 1993, the Yashpal Committee report recommended that schools follow the ‘Learning without burden’ model.

Last year, Mysuru-based People’s Legal Forum (PLF), decided to tackle the problem head-on and met Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Kimmane Rathnakar.

“We recommended that notebooks be replaced with loose sheets that could be filed,” says PLF director and advocate Baburaj Palladan. “He seemed impressed, and asked us to submit a proposal for a pilot.”

Months after the organisation handed this over, there has been no response, he adds. “But we plan to organise a convention of parents to renew our efforts,” he says.

Palladan, who has also been a member of the Juvenile Justice Court, says Section 23 (cruelty) of the Juvenile Justice Act can be invoked to implicate schools.

However, most parents don’t file cases because the child has to continue in the same school, and they are afraid of harassment, he adds.

Action in Kerala

In Kerala, Mukesh Jain from Mattanchery filed a petition in 2005 before the Kerala State Human Rights Commission, urging it to solve the problem of the heavy school bags.

The state government accepted the recommendation in totem and all the text books were published in volumes.

“Once out of schools and their growing phase is over.

The big gift they take to their future is a bent back and problems related to it,” says Mukesh Jain.

The suggestions he made

  • Divide textbooks into three parts — quarterly, half yearly and annually
  • Use 100-page notebooks for children up to Class 7 and files for older children
  • Bring down the weight of empty school bags from the existing average of 750 grams to 250 grams

Affecting Body and Mind

Shreyas, 13 yrs, class IX

Body Weight: 50 Kg

Bag’s Weight: 6 Kg

This is on Fridays, when he doesn’t have to carry his hard bound record books. On other days, the weight doubles.

Carrying more than 10 per cent of their body weights is considered injurious to children’s health. But Shreyas’ is among many children who carry an extra 10 per cent or more daily.

“We are yet to get all our textbooks. After that, commuting will become strenuous. The huge bag and the crowded buses are a deadly combination. Although there are shelves in our classes, if we leave them there, chances are they will be misplaced,” says Anjal Ghosh, a Class 9 student.

Pediatrician Dr Anand says even when the bag is lighter, the weight of the books must be properly distributed. Hard-bound books, he counsels, must not be carried daily. Schools must ensure facilities to store the heavier books. Parents must make sure that their child walk straight even with their bags on. Otherwise, the spine will curve over a period of time.

Heavy bags also result in stress. Psychologist Manoj Asok Kumar says, “It can cause irritation, leading to conflicts. Children will be always tried and won’t have energy to study or for other activities. This will affect academic progress.”

 — Thayyiba Jinan, Soorya S Shenoy

Breaking Tender Backs

Orthopaedic doctors point out that the maximum weight a child can carry is a tenth of his or her body weight. But the school bags, which comprise a water bottle, lunch box, books and other study materials, weigh upto 20 per cent of their body weight. Dr Aneen N Kutty, assistant professor, department of orthopaedics, Kozhikode Government Medical College, says, “We are playing with the health of our kids. This heavy load they carry on their backs is detrimental to their health.”  The physician adds that the number of children who seek treatment for neck, shoulder and back pain is increasing. “Heavy bags put a lot of pressure on the spine. This causes serious damage to the spine. Also, excess weight damages the disk and muscles,” he points out. Doctors also highlighted the long term effects of carrying heavy backs. They include headaches and curving of spine, caused by continuous strain put on the neck and shoulder. Experts have put forth suggestions that may, to an extent, bring relief to the children. “The number and size of textbooks should be minimised either by introducing alternatives like tablets or dividing textbooks into smaller volumes,” Aneen says.

Bagging Up

Members of Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP) have put forth some suggestions.

Things to be kept in mind while purchasing bags: Opt for sturdy bags with wide, padded shoulder straps (Wide straps reduce pressure on the neck and shoulder region)

The bags should also have a stabiliser strap

Lok for adjustable straps, the length of which can be altered as the child grows

School authorities should make light weight bags mandatory

Need help?

Parents and students seeking legal advice about heavy school bags can call People’s Legal Forum, Mysuru, on (0821) 2566484, or its director Baburaj on 94485 76297.

The High Court says

In the mid-1990s, an elderly petitioner called P S Ranganathachar had approached the High Court, seeking directions to the government to reduce the burden on children. Advocate G R Mohan argued the case for Ranganathachar, who passed away before he could follow up on the order.

The Karnataka education department placed on record Circular No 95-96 dated May 27, 1996 to show that it had given effect to the directions of the court over the years.

The circular directs educatuion officials to take steps to reduce the load of books.

It says schools should:

Prevent students from carrying unnecessary books.

Give homework in only one subject a day.

Teach meaningfully, clearly, and joyfully and create a proper atmosphere for learning.

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