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Learning without burden: Time to bring down the school bag weight
Some medical surveys say that due to heavy load of school bags, almost fifty per cent of elementary school children have started suffering from back pains, spinal abnormalities and scoliosis.

According to some health experts, children can suffer permanent back damage if they are made to carry a school bag more than 15 per cent of their body weight over their shoulders and backs regularly in their formative years.

Every now and then the issue of lessening the burden of school bag crops up. The circulars are repeated by the state departments of education and the Central Board of Secondary Education. However, the load of the school bags keeps on increasing year after year.

It was in 1993; Yashpal Committee has seriously raised the issue and brought out the report 'Learning without Burden' to make some pertinent and meaningful recommendations, but no avail. The classroom instruction continued to be content-based resulting in prescription of fatter private textbooks and glossy supplementary books.

Every time, when the issue is raised, it is followed by repeating the same old guidelines and circulars and the schools keep on ignoring them.

Even the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) of 2005 goes a step further and talks about the psychological and transactional load of curriculum on school children and has made some recommendations in this regard.

The CBSE reply to a parliamentary question for lessening the load of school bags for primary classes goes as follows.

  • Not to over prescribe textbooks for primary classes and to keep the number of textbooks limited so as not to exceed the number prescribed by National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).

  • No school bag for children of Classes I & II and to allow students to leave their school bags in school itself.

  • No homework to the children of Classes I & II and to evolve a concept of alternative to homework for the students of Classes III to V.

  • To plan a judicious time table to avoid unnecessary loading of school bags.

But this kind of reaching has not helped to mitigate the problem. The recommendations of the Yashpal Committee-1993 and NCF-2005 have serious implications for schools and teachers. Neither the schools, nor the teachers have innovated methods to reduce the load of the school bags and cognitive load caused by textbook teaching and textbook learning through cramming.

Even the CBSE and NCERT has not created any demonstration schools wherein the 'Learning without Burden" is happening. Unless 'how-to-do' is not demystified and the process is not demonstrated, the problem will continue and the burden of school office files too will continue.

I feel that learning in schools needs to be made process-based and there should a mechanism of training teachers and support system to implement it. This will make textbooks to used as reference books and study material at home and they would not to carry them to schools.

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