Schools, parents, govt make light of heavy school bags

PUBLISH DATE 31st July 2017

Activists say the weight of bags is still one to two kg above the limit, thanks to poor implementation of the policy, lack of awareness and short­term solutions adopted by govt

Although the Maharashtra education department brought in a policy to reduce the weight of school bags two years ago, students in Mumbai continue to stoop. Activists, educators and parents complain that the weight of the bags is still one kg to two kg above the prescribed limit owing to the introduction of heavier textbooks, lack of checks by the education department and emphasis on short-term solutions.

The government framed the policy on July 22, 2015, after Swati Patil, an activist from Pune, filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Bombay high court.

On February 13, 2015, state education minister Vinod Tawde weighed schoolbags in some schools and found them heavier than the permissible weights of 1.75 kg to 3.65 kg, set by the government earlier. The government then formed an expert panel to suggest solutions on how to unburden students.

The panel recommended 43 steps to be taken by the government and schools. It among others recommended that the weight of the bags should be less than one-tenth of the child’s.

But activists complain that children are lugging heavy bags because the policy has been poorly implemented.

In an ongoing hearing, Patil informed the high court that the government did not accept major recommendations of the expert panel, which offered long-term solutions. One of the suggestions was to divide textbooks into four terms. It also encouraged 100page notebooks against 200 pages.

While most of the schools have now unanimously switched over to thinner books, the government is still to come up with a plan to break-down the contents. Worse, the new textbooks for Classes 7 and 9 are heavier and contain more pages. This has increased the weight of the bag by approximately one kg, said activists.

“The new textbooks are much bigger,” said Father Francis Swamy, principal of St Mary’s School (ICSE) at Mazgaon, and joint-secretary of the Archdiocesan Board of Education, which runs 150-odd schools in Mumbai.

Routine checks in schools to ensure that they abide by the prescribed limit were conducted in the first year with much gusto, but the department lacked the manpower to continue them.

Although a government resolution was issued last month directing education officials to conduct monthly checks from this academic year, they have not yet begun. “We do not have enough officials to visit schools daily. For two to three months, our staff are engaged in conducting centralised admissions for Class 11,” said BB Chavan, deputy director of education, Mumbai region. “We can send officials on a case-by-case basis if we receive complaints from parents,” said Chavan. Ironically, there is no grievance redressal system for parents.

While the policy directs all education boards to provide online version of their textbooks, educators say this is not practical. “Firstly, not everyone can afford devices to access e-books; secondly, they cannot entirely replace textbooks,” said Rakhi Mukherjee, principal of Utpal Shanghvi Global School at Juhu.

Schools, too, admit they have failed to curtail bag weights because of various factors. Mukherjee said her school had installed lockers for international board students and introduced books with perforated sheets, but bags continued to be heavy.