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A burden on the backs of our children

Published: 
Friday, November 17, 2017

In T&T there is an often underreported problem about the relationship between the weight of children’s school bags and their health. A colleague recently raised his anxieties with me.

He assessed the bags of two female relatives who weighed 41lbs and 76lbs respectively. The burden of their bags was 9.4lbs and 24lbs each.

I am also concerned because, on occasion, I have had to tote my grandchildren’s bags and I found myself protesting about the weight.

I have asked many times whether the teachers did not provide the children with time tables so that they could bring only the books that were required on a particular day. Apparently there are time tables but many times the children think it is best to take all their books to school.

In 2007, Tenisha Weeks, then a 10-year-old student of Melville Memorial Primary won first place at the TUCO/Sunshine Snacks National Junior Monarch Final with a humorous calypso, School Bag Dilemma. Mr Carlton Keaton wrote the lyric.

School bag dilemma

Verse 1:

This year I gone up in the SEA class,

Meh teacher say no more play I have tuh learn fast,

Everyday is a big set ah work that she givin’ we,

An’ she send one long, long booklist for meh mammy.

Chorus:

(So I beggin’)

Lord have mercy,

Meh school bag is too heavy,

This big bag o’ books that she give me,

Like dey want to make meh back bosey

The seriousness behind the humour begins with the lines about back problems and this is where the education and health authorities should start paying attention.

The problem of the heavy school bags is not unique to our islands. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) observed that young children are complaining of back pain at a much earlier age than before and “the use of overweight backpacks is a contributing factor”.

Dr Scott Bautch, a member of ACA’s Council on Occupational Health, observed that a study conducted in Italy found that the average child carries a backpack that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for a 176-lb man, or a 29-lb load for a 132-lb woman.

According to Dr Bautch, preliminary results of studies conducted in France show that “the longer a child wears a backpack, the longer it takes for a curvature or deformity of the spine to correct itself”.

In September last year, there was a story in another newspaper, about a joint press conference hosted by Mr Devanand Sinanan president of TTUTA and Education Minister Anthony Garcia. Among other things they discussed the matter of the heavy school bags.

Mr Sinanan had reported that a parent complained to him that his child’s school bag weighed 12 kilogrammes which is approximately 26lbs!

He also said “… we have had reports from our medical experts indicating that, that is not good for the overall health of our children, that there have been instances where persons when they become adults suffered with back problems which can traced to when they were children carrying these every heavy bags around.”

Minister Garcia said: “… we are very mindful of the undue burden that is placed on the backs of our children and towards this end, Cabinet has approved the establishment of the learning materials evaluation committee, and the mandate of that committee is to facilitate the establishment of an approved list of text books and learning materials to be used in our schools.”

He added: “We are sure that when that committee provides its report, we will not see the ugly state where our students, our children have to carry around very large book bags so we are at one with you and we certainly will do everything in our power so that our children would not have that burden.”

Hopefully the report from Minister Garcia has been completed and measures taken to implement its recommendations.

Aiyegoro Ome

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