Nisha, a student of class 3 at the Government Girls’ Primary School, near Hanuman Mandir, and Sandhya, her neighbour and classmate, walk to school every day. It takes the six-year-olds a little over an hour to cover the 1km-distance from Sector 12 with their school bags that weigh 5-5.5kg.
“It takes us an hour to reach home from school. There are big cars on the road and the traffic never stops. Our bags are heavy on most days and it is tiring to carry them back, so we try to walk slowly,” Nisha said.
The girls are oblivious to the Haryana government guidelines regulating the weight of school bags set after the Ministry of Human Resource Development, in November, directed states to reduce homework for students and reduce the weight of their school bags. Though the HRD ministry did not specify the weight of the school bag on its own, it asked the states to follow the Telangana model, which restricts the weight of school bags for students of classes 1 and 2 to 1.5kg. For students of classes 3 through 5, it should not be more than 3kg. Class 6 and 7 students should not carry bags weighing more than 4kg and classes 8 and 9, 4.5kg. For class 10 students, a school bag should not weigh more than 5kg.
On December 10, the Haryana directorate of school education issued a circular adopting the Telangana model as the guideline for weight of school bags in the state.
According to the weight-limit set by the state government, class 3 students Nisha and Sandhya carry bags that are heavier by 2.5kg and 1.5kg, respectively.
Three weeks after the guidelines were issued, a reality check by the Hindustan Times showed how school children were still being forced to haul backbreaking load of books against the guidelines. Team HT weighed the students’ bags using a spring balance.
Gaurav Gautam, a Class 2 student at a private school in Sector 10, carries a bag weighing 10kg every day, which is over five times the prescribed weight limit. “I carry almost all the books every day. Sometimes, the teacher asks us for books of subjects that are not on the timetable. It’s better to carry all the books than get scolded for missing out on some,” Gaurav said.
Tejas Arya Saini, a class 7 student from the same school also carries a bag that weighs 10kg. His bag exceeds the prescribed limit by 6kg. The 12-year-old said they did not have shelves or cupboards in school where they could leave their books. “I get books according to the timetable. There is no place where we can keep the books in the school itself. Teachers ask us to carry a light bag, but we can’t help it since we are required to carry different books,” Saini said.
Most of the students that HT spoke with were not aware of the recent guidelines nor had they been apprised about the prescribed weight limit for bags by their teachers, the school or parents.
A similar state of affairs unfolds at the city’s government schools.
A class 2 student of Government Primary School in Sector 104, Anand, who goes by his first name, lugs 5kgs of books to school everyday. At this weight, the class 2 student is carrying a bag weight prescribed for class 10 students.
Dharamveer, a class 9 student of Government Senior Secondary School in Civil Lines, was carrying a bag that weighed 5.5kg on the last working day of the session. “My bag is lighter today because I knew that fewer classes would take place. On regular days, I carry five books and four notebooks. I get books strictly according to the timetable, but the bag still becomes so heavy I can barely lift it,” he said, adding tthat his teachers had not informed students about the weight guidelines.
Parents also said they had not received information about the new guidelines from the school and that nothing had changed for their children on ground.
“We have not been informed about these guidelines. Even if the guidelines are in place, there is no monitoring to ensure that they are followed. The children are required to carry multiple books to school. Children complain about the bags being heavy, but they cannot stop carrying books to school,” said Pooja, whose son studies in class 2 of a private school, and daughter goes to a government school.
Another parent Tripti Singh, whose children go to two different private schools, said schools did not take these guidelines seriously. “Schools are not compelled to abide by these guidelines as they do not have legitimate Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) that can ensure enforcement. They do not inform the parents and neither is there any pressure from the district administration to follow these guidelines,” Singh said, adding that children walking doubled over because of heavy bags was a common sight.
Experts have often opined that forcing children to carry such heavy bags everyday is inhuman, can stunt their growth and lead to spinal deformities
According to health experts, carrying heavy load on their backs can puts children at the risk of long-term health problems. “When children carry heavy school bags, they are stressing areas of the spine and core that are still growing. Carrying a heavy bag may lead to backaches, posture problems, knock knees and can lead to a disc problem in their adulthood,” said Dr Arvind Mehra, senior consultant, Orthopaedics, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram.
Nidhi Kapoor, principal of Euro International School, said that while her school had built lockers and that they would be allotted to students in the next academic session to ensure children didn’t carry heavy bags, the parents also needed to monitor the books children carried.
Other school administrators said that while the guidelines were welcome, country-wide research and survey are required to check if the guidelines can be applied universally to all schools.
“The weight of school bags definitely needs to be minimized, but one needs to find out by how much. How does one fix a specific number? Most of our workbooks are kept in cupboards, but all schools may not have these facilities. A nation-wide survey should be conducted to assess the applicability of such guidelines,” Amity International School, Sector 43, principal Anshu Arora said, adding that the situation was much worse in government schools due to poor infrastructure, and little awareness.
Another administrator from a private school echoed Arora’s thoughts.
“For any order to be followed, it is important to check if it’s practically possible for schools to comply with the guidelines issued. If the school doesn’t have a locker facility, where will the books be kept? Government asks schools to use only NCERT books, but schools could be using additional books as well. I agree with the guidelines, but one needs to have a well-stocked library so both students and teachers can get all the books they need. These things need to be factored,” she said.
Reacting to the non-compliance with the guidelines, district elementary education officer Premlata Yadav said the situation was unfortunate. “Schools should follow the guidelines that have been issued. They should make parents and students are aware of the prescribed weight limits. Steps should be taken to ensure that the weight of school bags is reduced,” she said.
“We need to divide books into parts. However, these changes cannot be implemented in the middle of the session. We can look at changing the way books are bound from the next academic session,” Yadav said.