SRINAGAR: Mouzam Khan, a Class I student, carries a bag of six textbooks and six notebooks apart from a lunchbox and a water bottle to his school every day. He says his bag is so big that it takes up the whole seat he uses at school, leaving him no place to sit. “My parents carry my bag to school for me because it’s too heavy,” he says. “When I do carry it, I wear both straps of the bag to keep it on my back.”
His father, Imran, told Kashmir Reader, “He loses balance when he carries the bag. I carry it to school, but he has to carry it during school time. There are no helpers who can help children carry their bags.”
As Haziqa Majeed, a Class IV student, waits for her bus, the heavy bag on her shoulders makes her back bent. Haziqa says she has to carry a lot of weight to school, and she usually has severe backaches.
“I have to carry eight books and eight notebooks and I sometimes have additional books too. I also have a lunch box and a water bottle. All these things are necessary to carry,” she says.
Another student, Hamzah Bhat of Class VI, tells, “We have to carry all notebooks of all subjects and keep both a fair and a rough copy because one teacher says to write on fair notebooks and another says to write on rough ones.”
He said that teachers punish students if they leave a notebook or a textbook at home. “We keep all books in order to save ourselves from punishments.”
Parents complain that despite having a time table, the students have to take all books along with all notebooks.
In order to lessen the burden of heavy bags, a few schools have adopted certain measures. Nazia, a private school teacher, says, “We have replaced notebooks with loose sheets now, but children have to get their textbooks and other essential stuff.”
According to Rabiya, a government school teacher, government school students carry fewer books because there are no additional books prescribed outside the syllabus. “In government-run schools, mid-day meals are provided and drinking water too. And students come from the vicinity, so they don’t have to walk long distances with heavy bags.”
Concerns over the disproportionate burden little ones shoulder when going to school led to a Children’s School Bag Act being passed in 2006, which says that a schoolbag should not weigh more than 10 percent of a child’s total body weight. However, schools in Kashmir have no regulations with respect to the weight of school bags.
In a survey conducted by the department of social and preventive medicines (DSPM) government medical college Srinagar in four districts, it was found that children carry more weight than that recommended, with children in the age group of 7-9 carrying the heaviest bags in proportion to their age. Government school students carry bags that weight 3-5 kgs on average, while in private schools, bags weigh around 5-7 kgs or even sometimes over 10 kgs.
Among all the districts surveyed, the results from Srinagar were alarming with 64 percent of children carrying more than their body weight. Fifteen percent of students have bag weight within 10 percent of their body weight. Sixteen percent of students carry bag weight within 20 percent of their body weight and 11.5 percent students carry bags beyond 20 percent of their body weight.
Sympathising with the school children, DSPM head Dr Mohammad Salim Khan said, “Children get exhaustion, fatigue, backaches and problems in the spine which can have long-term effects on their lives. When they are tired, what will they study? What interest will they have in their studies?”
He is seconded by Dr Faheem who works with health department and says that carrying heavy bags at the tender age when children’s bodies are moulding to their future shape can do them irreparable damage. “Children of less age should be free of all burdens,” he asserts. “Anything striking them at this age can live with them all their days. Children come to me with backaches and spinal problems for which their heavy bags are the only reasons.”
Health and education experts suggest a change in teaching methodology such as using assignments in and out of class instead of notebooks.
“Books can be divided according to sessions. The canteens in our schools should be sophisticated so that students don’t have to get lunch and water from home. By changing our policies and patterns, we can lessen the burden to a large extent. This problem is decades-old, but nobody seems to be bothered,” says Riyaz Ahmed Siddique, a former principal of Sri Pratap College.
G N Var, president of the Private School Association, says that the association has formed a committee, headed by Shabir Ahmed Mir of the R P group of schools, which will look into the matter.
“We have got a list of standardised books and instructions that will be implemented in the coming academic session. In addition to it, we are in contact with the Japan-based Kyoshi team of academicians. We may sign an MoU with them so that they can help us in prescribing suitable books to students.”
In 2016, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir gave the Education Department a three-month time-frame to come up with a policy to tackle the burdensome school bag problem, but no policy has been presented so far.