Students carrying heavy bags may suffer from back pain.

SCHOOL books and unapproved workbooks are a lethal combination. When loads of them are carried on the backs, especially of very young schoolchildren, they pose serious health issues.

This is an old story retold many times. The fact that this “heavy bag phenomenon” is happening again is because either schools are not treating the issue as seriously as they should, or parents are burdening their young wards with more pulp than their backs can bear. The Education Ministry (MOE) is not pleased; it has issued a stern warning, calling on teachers and headmasters to abide by the rule or face disciplinary action.

Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon did not mince his words: “Starting next year, the ministry will go all out to penalise teachers and headmasters who fail to comply with the new rule.” His call comes after some schoolchildren were seen carrying two bags, one for school texts and the other for workbooks. Despite MOE having issued 12 circulars since last year to remind teachers, unapproved workbooks somehow find their way to schools.

The recalcitrance may be due to the habit of chasing As — what our neighbours down south call kiasu. Some of our teachers do not realise that the race to up the guy or girl in the next seat or next school beats a very early path to the rat race. This is not the path we want our children to travel, as it slowly but surely leads to early burn-out.

Children, especially those in primary grades, should not be so burdened. We would only add to the growing mental problems among the very young. Besides, the practice of using unapproved workbooks stands in the way of the Malaysia Education Blueprint’s intent to develop high-order thinking skills (HOTS) among schoolchildren. We want our children to not only excel academically, but to also do well in life. Teachers and parents must know that there is such a thing as life after school.

The “heavy bag phenomenon” brings with it serious issues for schoolchildren. Parents have been the most vocal in expressing their displeasure bordering on disgust about their young children being asked to carry heavy and hard bags on their backs. Many studies conducted by universities and other institutions say heavy school bags cause serious health problems to schoolchildren, listing muscular skeletal issue as one of them. One of the studies revealed that 58 per cent of schoolchildren suffered from lower back pain associated with carrying heavy school bags. What is the ideal weight? Some experts say the weight of the bag should not be more than 10 per cent of the body weight of the child, provided the bag is well-designed. Anything more may hurt their tender shoulders and back.

E-books may just be the answer to ease the pain. Now that the Internet-savvy post-millennials are in primary schools, more learning should be done online. No matter how many e-books we load online, they will never hurt the fragile backs or shoulders of our children.

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