The weight of the school bag has been the subject of much debate and speculation. Last January, the Central Board of Secondary Education in India
issued a circular to all heads of institutions, to lighten the weight of school bags, especially at the primary level (see the
video here). Sometimes schools have come up with ideas to alleviate this weighty issue. Apart from limiting the number of books that children need to study, schools have also been asked to make arrangements so that students up to Class II can deposit their books in the school itself.
Diverse studies on school bag weights conducted by different NGOs across the country have found the average weight carried by a student to a school to range between 6kg. and 10kg. Internationally, most countries observe norms that limit the weight of school bags to less than one-seventh of the weight of the student.
The BBC quotes a study that shows that more than a third of Italian pupils carry bags which weigh more than 30% of their body weight at least once a week. The studies advise limiting the weight of backpacks in accordance with labor law standards. "Rate of low back pain in children is approaching those seen in adults. Although the economic importance of the problem is small at this age, the lack of certified limits for backpack carrying is short-sighted."
India’s largest public school system – The Kendriya Vidyalayas, actually prescribed a formula for the weight of the school bag. As per the norms, the bag for children in Class I and II should not be more than two kg., while it should be less than three kg. for students of Class III and IV. The prescribed weight is less than four kg. for children in Class V-VIII, while the upper limit is six kg. for students in Class VIII-XI. What the norms miss out is that the school bags do not carry just books. There is the lunch box, water bottle, for most of the students. Besides some also carry story books, magazines, DVD, make up, games, the occasional pets, iPods… the list goes on.
What if we give each child a
Kindle (or equivalent eBook reader) on the first day they step into school? We could then load all the readings, supplementary reading and perhaps even the school library on to the reader. We could put the entire set of readings (class 1-12) along with the Wikipedia made available to them. The content could be updated once the children go to the school or to a cybercafé. The weight of all the books and notebooks could be replaced by this device that weighs approximately 300 gms. or about 10 oz.
1. Latest content available and corrections incorporated easily. Think of the freeware that is available today (MIT has 1900 courses available for free as of date).
2. Children can read at their own pace. Visually challenged readers can use audio features to listen to the text. There are lots of text to speech converters available.
3. Possible to submit homework also online. Projects etc. will be better researched.
4. Cheaper than buying textbooks and notebooks every year and for each subject.
5. One time cost of the Kindle can be paid back over 12 years.
6. Students who wish to read ahead could do so.
1. How do we make Wi-fi connectivity available in rural areas?
2. Who will bear the cost of the e-Book readers – especially for those who cannot afford it?
The answer to both can be in Corporations stepping forth to put money, gifting e-book readers in the schools they could adopt. The content can initially be pre-loaded before giving it to the student. Once a quarter, the content can be updated. Mass scale adoption will dramatically bring down the cost of the reader. Maybe we can experiment by doing a pilot in a hundred schools to begin with and then decide how to scale it up in rural areas.
No more back breaking school bags. Now the children could simply carry their lunch box, water bottle, the iPod, makeup box and their pets to school. How much easier would that be?