Despite steps by the government and the CBSE to reduce the burden of school bags on children, the day when students can travel light remains distant. Asha Sridhar examines the whys and the way ahead

When N. Smruthi, a class VI student at a CBSE school, unpacks her enormous school bag every evening, she can usually count nearly 30 books. Most of them, she observes, are necessary everyday. The other books, she is merely wary of leaving out.

Delhi-based NGO Uday Foundation’s recent petition, ‘Save my back’ — an appeal to the MHRD against heavy school bags — on change.org has already got over 600 endorsements and yet again reiterates the importance of the battle against the bulge. Steps by both the State government and CBSE to reduce the burden on students have helped considerably but much remains to be done, say experts.

In an attempt to reduce the burden, the State government in 2012 introduced a trimester-based textbook system for classes I-VIII. Chapters from all subjects for the term were compiled in one or two textbooks. The method was extended to class IX too this year. The CBSE too has advised affiliated schools to reduce the burden on students and one of the objectives of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation system, introduced in CBSE schools, and State-board schools up to class IX, was to reduce the academic burden. The move has been of much benefit to P. Subhashini and K. Aarthi, class VII students of a government-aided school. “Now, our test notebooks are kept in school so we carry only what is required,” says Subhashini who travels to her school in Mylapore from Taramani by train.

However, the reform does not help if schools do not keep a limit on the number of notebooks. S. Kotteshwari, a class VII student at a Chennai Corporation school, takes only two textbooks to school but still has a bag full of notebooks. “The situation is especially bad on days when we have submissions,” she says. A class X student of a Chennai Corporation school says that they also have to carry a graph notebook almost on a daily basis. “Though my house is a five minute walk away, my shoulder aches,” the student says.

Educationist S.S. Rajagopalan recollects that the issue was raised by writer R.K. Narayan in the Rajya Sabha following which a committee headed by Prof. Yash Pal was constituted. “The committee identified seven to eight kinds of burden such as curriculum load, and homework. Only when these loads are removed, will there be learning without burden in the true sense. The problem cannot be solved until private textbooks are banned in schools,” he says.

School principals say that carrying books according to the time-table could make a significant difference. S. Namasivayam, senior principal, Maharishi Vidya Mandir, says that the school has made arrangements for shelves in classrooms, where students leave behind some books. “We also check bags in classrooms from time to time,” he says. Sheela Raghavan, principal, TI Matriculation Higher Secondary School, says that they send students’ workbooks home only on weekends. She notes that while schools can take a call on having fewer subjects each day and rethinking the time-table, it is upto parents to ensure that children carry only the necessary books.

Smruthi’s mother Priya Shankar said though she asks her daughter to stick to the timetable, Smruthi keeps arguing that leaving out only four or five books would not make a huge difference. She also carries additional stationery on some days. “Fortunately, my daughter gets dropped right outside the school gate; so she has to carry the bag only up to her classroom,” she says.

N.R. Murali, Deputy Commissioner, Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, Regional Office, Chennai says that their time-table also includes a schedule for homework notebooks. “Sometimes, we also retain notebooks in class and have a worksheet system, where single worksheets can be filed back at home,” he adds.

Ms. Priya suggests a common notebook for all subjects, instead of lockers. “My son’s school gave students a common notepad with sheets, which the students come home, tear and file according to the subjects. This may not work with lower classes though,” she says.