Selva Kumar says his daughter trudges up two floors in her school everyday with a school bag that weighs nearly 8 kg. Her bag is full of textbooks, notebooks for classwork and activity books. In addition, she carries a lunch box.
The girl is in Class VIII. A recent circular by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) states that school bags of students from classes VIII to X can only weigh between 4.5 kg to 5 kg.
The MHRD also instructed all States and Union Territories to formulate guidelines to regulate the teaching of subjects and weight of the school bag in accordance with the Centre’s India instructions. According to the norms, the weight of the bag for classes I and II should only be 1.5 kg and for classes VIII to X, it cannot exceed 5 kg.
According to the Tamil Nadu School Education Department, students in State board schools should not have bags that weigh more than 3.75 kg in Class VIII. However, the reality is different.
“School bags are heavy. Even parents have difficulty lifting them. Many schools have tie-ups with various organisations and prescribe separate workbooks for the same,” says a parent, whose son studies in Class VII.
Earlier this year, the Madras High Court banned homework for classes I and II and called for States to formulate policies for schools to ensure the number of books carried by students were reduced.
Following the directive, the Director of Matric Schools in Tamil Nadu sent a circular stating that with the trimester pattern in place, the weight of school bags had already reduced, since every subject had a textbook for each term, instead of one big textbook for the whole year.
While schools generally function according to a timetable that’s drawn up for the academic year, there are several changes in the initial months owing to rehearsals for school events or students attending competitions.
“Several classes get shifted around and students are scared that they might not have the books required in case there is a change in classes. There should be some planning and in the long term, schools should start thinking if they can have a single notebook for all subjects,” said Samuel Sathish, a parent.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has been regularly issuing circulars asking schools to ensure that the weight of the bags are in check. In a circular issued in August, the CBSE provided a list of NCERT textbooks for each class and had said that schools could use the list to ensure that they don’t prescribe additional books. The notebooks too keep growing in number. Radhika, whose son studies in Class IV in a city school, pointed out that subjects such as English have separate notebooks for grammar.
A few schools in Chennai, in the recent past, have, however, been sending daily schedules through a centralised information system to the parents. They are also carrying out checks to ensure that students do not bring any extra book to class.
The Directorate of Matric Schools in Tamil Nadu has said that chief educational officers have been instructed to ensure that all schools comply with the rules and monitor them through flying squads.
K.R. Nandakumar, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Matric, Higher Secondary and CBSE Schools Association, said that schools and parents have to work together for effective solutions. “There has to be cooperation from students too and arrangements can be made for students to leave their classwork notebooks that they may not need behind for the day at school,” he said.