Bring in lockers, Take the load off

Is the changing education system putting physical and mental stress on students? This is an often asked question by parents and health experts seeing children going to schools with heavy backpacks, amid initiation of e-learning and locker system in many schools. While doctors affirm heavy school bags often result in mental stress and physical complications in children, experts feel it is the result of a directionless educational system. Nine-year-old Afzal is a student of fourth grade. His school bag is so heavy that his father says he finds it heavy to be lifted while dropping his son at the school.
“When I complained to the class teacher, she said that there was no other way because books are required in the classroom,” says Abdul Razaq. But Mariam, like any other mother, is worried that her 10-year-old is not healthy enough to carry the weight which is more than 20 per cent of his weight. “I always pray that he doesn’t lose his balance while carrying the bag, especially while boarding the bus,” she says.
Some children prefer to carry trolley bags. But most schools in the Sultanate have banned them for the reason that they were proved more tedious than the regular school bags. They add more weights and also dangerous while boarding and alighting from a school bus and climbing the stairs of the school.
Now have a look inside the bag of a child. There is a school diary, minimum six to seven notebooks, an equal number of textbooks, a pen-pencil pouch, lunchbox, water bottle and other stationery. These all together will weigh more than seven kilos. If the child goes for tuition after school, usually those books are also put into the school bag, adding to the weight.
Scientists have established that school children who use backpacks should avoid loads of more than 10 per cent of their body weight and those who use trolleys, 20 per cent of their body weight, reported a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Ergonomics. This means if a child weighs 30kg, his school bag must not exceed 5kg.
“The trend of carrying the backpack on one shoulder can also cause muscular sprain and back pain,” says Dr Ranjan Babu, senior orthopedic at a city hospital. A heavyweight on the developing shoulders poses a major threat to the skeleton system and leads to a stunted growth of the bones.
He also warns that slinging a backpack on one shoulder bag can cause the body to curve to one side. “The child should be urged to wear both shoulder straps,” adds the doctor. Backpacks should be adjusted to hang just above the waist and wide padded straps are better. It is important that the straps fit the child’s shoulders. Sometimes, the joints of the spine may also grow unevenly, deforming the child’s posture.
The school bag weight has been hotly debated by parent–teacher fora and yet no conclusive decision has been made. According to Dr Baby Sam Samuel, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Indian Schools in Oman, carrying heavy school bags is a common concern for the children, parents and schools. “As a schooling system we have been exploring various measures, within our limitations, to reduce any adverse impact on children,” he said. The most common solution worldwide, said Dr Sam, is a locker system which unfortunately requires significant infrastructural changes for the already established schools.
Another solution is digitalisation which, however, comes with its own set of demerits. “Currently, what we advise is to limit books to just what is required for the day. Often children may carry books beyond the prescribed timetables,” he said.
Another practical suggestion is to split the text books as much as possible for each term. Parents can also ensure that the bags are ergonomically suited for the height and weight of child, and should have broad shoulder straps that can distribute the weight.
The Public Authority for Consumer Protection in a recent advisory said that the weight and size of the bag should be matching the height and weight of the child. The posture of a child while holding the bag can speak a lot about his struggle with the weight carried daily.
“An imbalanced bag can hurt the posture of the child leading to physical harm. Hence the bag should be relatively small in size so that it would not hurt the child,” the consumer watchdog said. According to the note, the bag be made in such a way that could stay close to the child’s back and it does not give extra pressure on the child’s legs. As for the straps of the bag, the authority advised that they should be wide, with thick fabric so that it doesn’t cause shoulder pain.