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Children overburdened with heavy schoolbags

Kathmandu, May 22, 2016: Magisha Gautam, an eighth grader and Magish Gautam, a fifth grader at Anamnagar-based Occidental Public School, walk 15 minutes to school every day with heavy schoolbags weighing on average eight kilos on their delicate shoulders.

Magisha said her school had prescribed 13 textbooks to them, including reference books. She has to carry eight books with two exercise books for each subject on school days and some reference books on teachers’ requests on some days.

“I am very tired when I return home,” she said, adding, “Some days I experience really bad pain on my back.”

Magisha and Magish’s father Meghnath Gautam said that not only do the large number of prescribed books and notebooks put a financial strain on the family, it badly affects the children’s health.

Institutional School Criteria and Operation Directives-2012 have set caps on the weight of schoolbags. the directives state that schoolbags for students from the first to fifth grades must not weigh more than 4 kilos, for sixth to eighth grades it must not exceed six kilos, and for ninth and tenth grades the limit is eight kilos, including lunch boxes.

The directive also strictly prohibits schools making pre-primary students carry schoolbags and textbooks. The directives further state that students in first grades must have only six textbooks and schools can only prescribe one reference book for every two school subjects.

Tek Bahadur Poudyal, principal at Occidental Public School, admitted that  the load of textbooks and notebooks on children more than exceeds imposed  limitations.  “Some parents complain of unnecessary load on students, but without textbooks and exercise books, students don’t study in classrooms,” he added.

Some schools prescribe around seven books to pre-primary students, although the students aren’t required to carry those books regularly. Schools receive heavy commissions on the sales of textbooks. Many schools flout the directives and prescribe up to 18 books, including reference books for the first grade itself.

Doctors said that carrying such heavy bags daily can cause shoulder, neck and back pain as in the short run, and in the long run it may lead to medical conditions such as scoliosis (an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine), kyphosis (excessive outward curvature of the spine), hunchback, as well as numbness and tingling sensation in extremities.

Senior Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon at Tripureshwor-based Blue Cross Hospital and Bhaktapur-based Dr Iwamura Hospital Dr Prajwal Man Shrestha said, “Heavy schoolbags can cause Kyphosis which will lead to decrease in normal breathing capacity as well as affect natural growth in children, leading to stunted heights.” He added that 20 to 30 percent of his patients are children complaining of back pains due to heavy schoolbags.

Dr Shrestha said that a child should not be made to carry more than 10 to 12 per cent of his/her body weight.

Psychologist Karuna Kunwar, who is associated with Centre for Mental Health and Counseling, said heavy satchels would tire students and make it difficult for them to concentrate in classes.

“Carrying such heavy bags will make children feel that life is a burden from an early age,” said Kunwar. She added that while some children can express their problems, many cannot which will ultimately make them naggy. She also warned against long-term psychological impacts on children if the issue is not addressed timely.

According to ‘Nepal Education in figures-2014’ prepared by MoE, more than 7.5 million children study in 35,223 schools across the country, 1.13 million of which study in around 5,593 private schools.