Oversized school bags are taking their toll on the nation’s future. A large number of school kids carrying heavy bags are falling victims to temporary as well as permanent medical conditions, such as back pain, deformed skeletons and lung problems, experts say.
According to a recent report published in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics, about 30 per cent of school children complain of back pain. If a child’s school bag weighs more than 15 per cent of their body weight, the journal notes, it changes the angle of shoulder, neck, trunk and lower limb and affects overall posture.
Another study conducted by the Indian Medical Association says that heavy bags can result in permanent disability as growth of the skeletal system among children occurs during puberty. It also says that the children carrying bags weighing more than 10 per cent of their body weight have been found to have poorer lung function.
In a shocking incident last year, a Class 6 student of a school in East Delhi’s Mayur Vihar area fell to his death after losing balance while leaning over a railing due to the weight of his near-13 kg bag.
Dr. Rahul Nagpal of Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, told Mail Today: "The issue needs urgent attention… situation is distressing. At times school bags more than 10 per cent of the body weight of a student, as is happening in most cases now, cause permanent change in the posture of a child."
"Gaining knowledge should be a joy, not pain," says Rahul Verma, founder of NGO Uday Foundation which three weeks ago began an online campaign, ’Save my back’. The campaign aims at ensuring that bags carried by students are not heavy enough to cause back problems.
School bags weighing more than 10 per cent of a child’s own weight can cause permanent changes in posture
"Today, children carry bags as much as 30-40 per cent of their body weight. What will we achieve when a child gains good knowledge but has back pain and other health problems for life?" says Verma.
Nearly 700 people including parents, teachers and doctors have signed the online petition so far. The NGO is appealing to the Ministry of Human Resource Development to frame a policy for reducing the weight of the bags which is to be made applicable to all schools in the country.
If the HRD ministry does not act, Verma plans to file a public interest litigation in court.
Anasuya Boligarla, a parent and one of the signatories in the campaign, wrote: "As a doctor and mother I know the serious consequences of carrying heavy loads on the backs of the children that will lead to premature aging of the spine and injuries. A single mother cannot educate the schools hence joining you for saving the kids spine."
Says Celina, another parent: "As an adult I suffer from shoulder pain often when carrying just a handbag of maybe 1-2 kilos. It is so hard for a little kid to carry their heavy bags to school and climb several floors to reach their classroom."
Social activist and lawyer Ashok Agarwal, on whose petition the Delhi High Court banned home works till Class 1 and directed all schools to ensure students carry baggage less than 10 per cent of their body weight, says the court recommendations had not been followed.
"It’s a major issue. Students are suffering. Significant court orders and recommendations have not been followed on this issue," he rued.
The high court had in January 2012 asked schools to take steps to ensure that the weight of school bags does not exceed 10 per cent of a child’s body weight. The court had also said kids shall not be burdened with homework till Class 1. T
he Ashok Ganguly committee constituted by the court suggested that there should be no books in the bag in pre-school classes, and that children should only carry a tiffin box and play materials.
A panel headed by Prof. Yash Pal had in 1993 asked NCERT to rework school syllabus to reduce the load of books. The CBSE in 2004 framed guidelines to reduce the load. It said school bags for classes 1 and 2 should not weigh more than 2 kg. For classes 3 and 4, the bag’s weight should be less than 3 kg, and those studying in classes 5 to 8 shouldn’t carry bags that are more than 4 kg. The upper limit for senior classes from 9 to 12 has been set at 6 kg.
None of the guidelines have been implemented by schools.