The decision of the HRD Ministry to make school bags and grades less burdensome for students based on their age is aimed at well-rounded physical and mental development of the students.
Education is a wholesome process which students should participate freely in and engage happily with. It should not end up looking like an exploitative practice or inducing performance pressure. Unfortunately, in our country, our kids are caught in an androidish drill of bookish knowledge and making the cut in competitive exams rather than savouring knowledge discoveries in the absence of application-based teaching modules.
Perhaps this norm on heavy-lifting will encourage alternative thinking in existing educational policies and prioritise student welfare. To begin with all schools — and some private schools have done it — should immediately formalise a book locker system as it is done in many countries abroad to ease the to-and-fro logic.
The effects of school bag load on the physical and mental well-being of students have been well documented. An ASSOCHAM survey conducted in 2016 found that because of a load of books in the bags of children, 68 per cent children in the age group of 7 to 13 years face the risk of backaches, hunchbacks, spinal and postural problems, some of which were irreversible and impede mobility patterns in their adult life.
The survey had also noted that over 88 per cent of students in the same age group carry more than 45 per cent of their own weight on their backs. The heavy bags, according to the survey, included textbooks, activity books, swim kit, lunch box and other things. To this extent, the directive is welcome. However, the regimentation of books, content and subjects that can be taught at primary levels, as recommended by the Ministry, defeats the very purpose of education being a free space and only perpetuates the “brick in the wall” approach.
While banning tests are welcome for classes I and II, limiting the number of subjects to only languages and mathematics — clearly sharpening skills of communication and logical reasoning, maybe even scientific temper — severely hampers the child’s overall development. True you free them up for exploratory outdoors and sports but why deny them the narrative of our history and culture, something that our kids are increasingly veering away from? Besides, a curtain-down approach does not work in digitally informed times and in the absence of a regime, could expose them to more sources of misinformation than information.
Even in higher classes up to class V, concession has been made for environmental science with total disregard for an approach that balances both left and right brain development. This becomes even more punishing with the clause that only NCERT books can be accessed with no provision for other sources of study material. The early years are crucial for shoring up self-sufficiency in our younger generation, so there cannot be an agenda-driven outlook for education policies that impact the wonder years between five and 12.
Reducing load is one thing — there can be several alternatives explored with school lockers and cheap e-books in a graded manner — but restricting subjects and codifying approaches, especially as part of public policy, will only make a generation literate but not knowledgeable enough. Agreed, we don’t need to push kids over the edge but the government should not have the sole agency to decide what they need and do not.
Courtesy: The Pioneer