Rajat, 15, had been complaining of severe back pain, which travelled from back to leg, for past couple of months. His parents initially ignored his complaint but later they also realised that Rajat, a class 10th student, was right. One day, while carrying his school bag he suddenly collapsed. He could not bear the weight of the bag. Doctors diagnosed him and the reports was very startling. Rajatâs spine disc was dislocated and due to that he had been facing severe back problem. Doctors were also surprised at this stage how could Rajat had this problem as he did not have any record of accident, was not involved in gym and had never participated in any vigorous games.
Everyone remained shocked when the reports suggested that the reason of Rajatâs pain was his bag weighing about 10-12 kg that he had to carry every day to his school. The weight of the bag was gradually putting pressure on his back, affecting his spine disc.
Rajat is not alone. Now a days, thousands of children are suffering from minor or major problems directly related to heavy bags. Early slip disc, spondylitis, spondylolisthesis, persistent back aches, early degeneration of spine and postural scoliosis are some of the problems commonly faced by children these days. Reports suggest that 68 per cent of school children under the age of 13 years across India are suffering from mild back pain, which can develop into chronic ,and later into hunchback or many other related problems.
A survey conducted by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) under its Healthcare Committee has found that over 88 per cent of children in the age group of 7-13 years carry more than 45 per cent of their weight on their backs including art kit, skates, taekwondo equipment, a swim bag, cricket kit every alternate day leading to serious spinal damage and irreversible back problems.
Directly or indirectly, many efforts have been made to stop this practice which is threatening to the health of child but nothing much seems to be working. Recently National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is working to resolve this issue. The commission has been receiving several complaints from parents of school-going children that some schools are imposing books other than prescribed by NCERT. The NCPCR has written a letter to CBSE chairman highlighting some discrimination in the evaluation pattern of the school education. Many schools are adding and referring books other than NCERT.
There are certain points which have been raised, including the culture of heavy bags being adopted by schools over the years. âThe evaluation system followed by CBSE-affiliated schools is different from that framed by the academic authority (NCERT). And this is the reason a totally different ,curriculum taught in schools, which in turn leads to the need for additional and/or different study material/books resulting in commercialised, costly and non-uniform education systemâ said Priyank Kanoongo, a Member of NCPCR and the person ,who took the initiative to stop this system.
âItâs been observed by us that the CBSE is working in some areas which is outside his jurisdiction,â Priyank said. âWe have taken up this whole issue seriously as we also noticed that CBSE evaluating children is not according to evaluation system laid down by the NCERT but by some foreign evaluation system, which itself is creating too much confusion among schools and students.â
The letter written to the CBSE also pin points that since the government has notified NCERT as the academic authority for laying down the curriculum as per Section 29 (1) of the RTE Act, 2009, the assessment model given by the council should be a universal framework to be followed by all schools coming under the ambit of RTE Act, 2009.
However, it has been observed that CBSE while endorsing the idea of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) at elementary level originally introduced by NCERT and endorsed in RTE Act, has not only misinterpreted the entire objective of CCE but also stepped in the domain of the notified academic authority by setting a format of assessment in its âManual for Teachersâ for classes VI-VIII on CCE. âHow can secondary education board can interfere with any activity related to primary level classes?â Priyank asked.
In chapter 3 of the manual, under the Details of CCE Report Book for Classes VI,VII, VIII, formative assessment has been graded and made part of the overall assessment by including it in the final assessment of the childâs performance.Assessment of a teacher has also been included for the assessment of a student, NCPCR also observes this point.
âUniformity in the evaluation pattern as per the national academic authority will lead to homogeneity in curriculum across all schools, which will prevent commercialisation of school education by private schools and make it more cost effective,â ,said a senior teacher of a public school.
When contacted Education Secretary Anil Swaroop of HRD Ministry said,â This is not in my knowledge. You better contact NCERT and CBSE.â We tried many times to reach CBSE Chairman Anil Chaturvediâs comment on the issues but failed.
NCERT Secretary Major Harsh Kumar wonât comment on this but said, âThe work which has been allotted to NCERT is getting done sincerely. Our main work is to assess, to advice the Central government on the implementation of policies of education… We update the curriculum from time to time to match the National Education Policy.â
âIf two different agencies will assess, advise or evaluate the childrenâs performance, it will only create confusion among children. Till now NCERT books are the road map to every higher examination and every exam is based on âNCERT books. But as it has become common practice that along with NCERT , schoolbagdifferent books are being taught in schools. Which is not only making education more stressful, confusing but also adding the weight of school bags,â said Atul Kothari, National Secretary of Shikha Sanskriti Uthaan Niyas. âIf NCPCR is taking up this matter with CBSE, it will prove helpful to children.â
As per the Childrenâs School Bag Act school bag should not weigh more than 10 per cent of a childâs weight. But it is almost more than a decade this rule was passed but hardly any school is following it.
According to experts, these are the lapses on the part of CBSE, which has failed to put vigilance on the schools on the matters such as heavy bags, fee structure, concept, infrastructure, etc.
On the contrary, a top official at CBSE said, âWe have been trying our level best to persuade schools not to put burden on students by various means but unfortunately many times we face interference, political pressure and we feel helplessness to improve the system.
No doubt time to time many guidelines , rules are being framed by the CBSE to make education stress-free and to keep every child burden free. Recently, the CBSE revealed that it is planning to make it mandatory for schools to instal lockers for students to keep books. Books are not needed to take home, hoping to lighten backpacks that have become a health concern. The Board has also asked all its affiliated schools not to assign any homework to students of class I and II and they need not bring school bags to schools. In the resent past, a circular has been issued by the CBSE asking all its affiliated schools to take a series of measures for schools, teachers and parents to reduce the weight of school bags.
âAs we are concerned about pains and problems of parents and have issued many advisories and directions to the schools. A lot still needs to be done.â admitted a senior CBSE official. There is no doubt that rules should be made stern, punishable, heavy penalty for those who flout guidelines and laws made by CBSE as it is directly linked to the future and health of children.
To cut down the weight of bags, CBSE has been trying for quite some time. On July 20, 2015, the CBSE issued a circular to the principals of all schools, warning them against the practice of coercing parents to buy textbooks other than those of the NCERT. The circular was issued following a series of complaints stating that many schools had been coercing students and parents to buy textbooks other than those prescribed by the NCERT.
Recently, Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar advised schools to stick to books published by the NCERT rather than those by private publishers. Encouraged by the response from over 2,000 private schools for books published by the NCERT, the Human Resource Development Ministry is looking into making NCERT books compulsory for CBSE schools after conducting a review of the educationa institutions.
However, many educationists differ with the government on the issue. According to them through reference books, students may understand the topic deeply. The school never force the students to buy books other than the NCERT. The teachers only suggest them to take help of other publishers to understand certain topics. A teacher at a private school said, âThe reason why we go for other publishers is that every year, we face almost 30 to 40 per cent shortage of NCERT books. Many times we get only one consignment of NCERT books, which is not enough for all the school students.â
Before taking any decision, the govt should make sure that NCERT should cater needs of each and every student regarding books. Several states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Delhi issued specific guidelines to use lighter school bags and revised textbooks to make them slimmer. Many private schools have also switched to smart-classes and educational tablets to replace text books for higher classes.
Doctors have clearly advised that excessive and uneven loads are linked to an increased risk of back-trouble and deformation of the spine. Stress from such excess weights may affect the growth of the musculoskeletal system especially if children carry the bag on one shoulder. If the children start getting back pains at such a young age, then there is the possibility that they will have it life long. Itâs time for the government, CBSE and other agencies to appreciate observation made by NCPCR regarding evaluation process of the school. No doubt every agency is doing its best to improve education system of the schools and make the studies stress-free and friendly to children. All the stakeholders must come under one umbrella and work for the betterment of the education system. After all, this is the matter related to our children — âThe Future of Our Nation â