Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bangalorean school takes RTE seriously, reduces bag weight with great results

Bangalorean school takes RTE seriously, reduces bag weight with great results

Published: Thursday, Jun 28, 2012, 15:28 IST
By Vidya Iyengar & Puja Pednekar | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

RTE Act provision
Section 29 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2010, provides that the weight of schoolbags must be reduced to ease the burden on students.

For most students, the biggest ache is the bag ache—which is also a reason behind the infamous backache and dropping shoulder frames. Two years after the RTE Act—that wanted, among other reforms, to lighten schoolbags—came into force, little has changed and students still endure the backbreaking task of carrying heavy schoolbags, according to a recent study. Inspired by the same research, a Bangalore school has embarked on a novel initiative to save schoolkids from developing a slouch—
and it’s just the beginning,
reports Vidya Iyengar.

As the law sees it...
As per the Children’s Schoolbag Act of 2006:
A schoolbag should not weigh over 10% of the body weight.
Nursery and kindergarten students should carry no schoolbag.
Schools should issue guidelines on bags.
The state government should provide appropriate lockers at schools.
Schools violating such provisions are liable to face a penalty of up to Rs3 lakh; a subsequent violation may lead to de-recognition.

...But the reality is

Children carry over 35% of their weight on their backs.
Even nursery and kindergarten students are not spared.
Schools don’t have appropriate lockers.
They have no guidelines on bags.
No school violating the provisions has faced the music.
A Class 10 student, Aishwarya Chitagudigi was a regular at school, and as a result, used to suffer regular backaches, too.
She thought the culprit was her loaded schoolbag, and she was right—because after her school declared Wednesdays as ‘No Bag Day’, her back problem eased, considerably.
That’s why Chitagudigi loves Wednesdays. So do the other students of Little Flower Public School in Banashankari that has introduced this novel initiative.
Realising that heavy schoolbags are breaking their backs, the school decided to act. Once a week, the students are asked to leave their bags home and come to the school empty-handed—just carrying the lunch pack. Students of all classes are encouraged to come to the school without their bags every Wednesday. And, it is a huge hit among the students. Principal of the school, B Gayethri Devi, said they decided to rid the students of their bags after they came across a survey, which highlighted that students were developing back-related problems because of heavy schoolbags.
She, however, said the no-bag day does not mean no-studies day: the school stores some textbooks and notebooks to ensure that teaching goes unabated.
Besides, activity-based learning takes place on Wednesdays, such as role play and a few other things that aim at developing the students’ oratory skills.
The students have lapped up the school’s initiative. A student, Sushma DM, said the no-bag day has saved her back. She, too, like Chitagudigi used to suffer pain. Her classmate Sukesh Narayan Kashyap was just as upbeat. He said this initiative would ensure that students don’t have stooping back.
Class X students said initially they were sceptical about how Wednesdays at school would turn out without their bags, but the result is 'just fascinating'.
Devi said it is not just on Wednesdays that the school expresses its concern towards the students’ heavy bag. She said the school had issued a circular to parents, requesting them to ensure that the weight of their children’s bag is not more than 10% of their body weight, on any day. She said the school ensures that the circular is followed in letter and spirit. She said every day, during morning assembly, lower class students are asked to lift their bag with little finger; higher class students should be able to lift theirs with ring finger and little finger.
The survey
It took a research survey to prove what we’ve known for long: that our children’s stoops have more to do with heavy schoolbag  than a lack of concern for a good posture. Mumbai has the second highest number of cases — piped by Delhi — of children complaining of backaches due to heavy schoolbags.
According to a survey conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) under its Social Development Foundation, 58% school-going children under the age of 10 years across the country are suffering from mild back pain, which can develop into chronic pain, and later, into hunchback. It also stated that over 79% of Mumbai’s children in the age group of 5-12 carry more than 35% of their weight on their backs. The Children’s Schoolbag Act, 2006, had provisioned that students shouldn’t be allowed to carry more than 10% of their body weight on their backs. This 'excess load' has raised the risk of an early onset of back pain and stress.
Also, around 1,500 students below the age of 12 could not sit without a slouch and suffered from orthopaedic problems. A total of 40% of children surveyed is physically inactive.
“Excessive and uneven loads have been linked to an increased risk of back trouble and deformation of the spine. Stress from such excess weights may affect the growth of the musculoskeletal system. If children start getting back pains at such a young age, then there is the possibility that they will have it for the next 70-80 years,” explained Dr BK Rao, chairman of Assocham’s health committee.
More girls than boys bear the brunt of a heavy schoolbag, with complications manifesting themselves in back pains with age.
Among students surveyed, those carrying the heaviest backpacks had a 50% higher risk of getting a back pain than those with the lightest, said D S Rawat, secretary general of ASSOCHAM.
A majority of the parents surveyed complained that on an average, their children carry 21 books for a day’s seven to eight periods.
Over 78% of them said drawing classes no longer offer respite, as students are required to get not just plain sheets of paper for freehand drawing, but also a textbook with half-drawn images and the complete colour kit. Add to the load skates, taekwondo equipment, a swim bag and a cricket kit every alternate day, and it’s not tough to understand that your child’s frequent complaints of back pain aren’t an excuse to miss school.
About 86% of the students said they carry their bags all through  the day because either there are no lockers or they are not easily accessible. Rao suggested that a well-designed backpack and that children should exercise regularly to improve their muscle tone.
Little Flower’s initiative is just a new beginning and a novel idea that other schools, too, can take a cue from and move toward abolishing schoolbags. Given the technological developments and introduction of user-friendly tablets and e-readers, bag-free days are not so far.

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