Burden of schoolbags

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It is very unfortunate that most schools across Assam have not bothered to follow the guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development that have specified the maximum limit of weight of schoolbags for students of different classes. The guidelines were issued by the Ministry in November itself had fixed the new limit for the weight of schoolbags as follows – Class I and II (1.5 kg), Class III to V (2-3 kg), Class VI and VII (4 kg), Class VIII and IX (4.5 kg) and Class X (5 kg). The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development had also asked the states to come up with regulations that limit the weight of school bags depending upon the classes they are in. The Union Ministry’s circular sent to the education department authorities of all the states had particularly requested all state school departments to formulate guidelines that can regulate the weight of the school bags that are carried by the students. While the Union ministry had considered heavy weights on the back of children as extremely harmful for their health, the circular had also stated that according to the new rules, students of Class I and II should not be given any homework, while no student, irrespective of class, should be asked to bring additional books and extra materials to school. According to experts, the maximum weight a child should carry is one-tenth or ten per cent of his or her body weight including all things like water-bottles and tiffin-boxes, etc. Carrying very heavy backpacks can lead to musculoskeletal problems, especially if children carry the bag on one shoulder. Experts say that carrying a heavy schoolbag on one shoulder puts extra pressure on one side of the body, thus tilting the spine. Moreover, keeping the bag down and then lifting it again is more dangerous for a growing spine than continuously walking with static weight. School authorities must understand through common sense that a child has to lean forward to carry a heavy bag, which in turn leads to developing a bad posture. The spine is a stack of bones called the vertebral column with the bones separated by a cartilage called the inter-vertebral disk, which is held upright by the muscles and ligaments around it. The excess weight exerts undue stress on the muscles, ligaments and disk, in the process increasing the risk of damaging them. The alignment of the column is also disturbed causing it to bend, mostly forward or sideways. Moreover, carrying heavy bags can also have an adverse impact on the nervous system of the child, apart from lasting damage like spinal deformities as skeletal frames are not fully formed in human bodies at such a young age. While the immediate ill-effects of a heavy schoolbag include pain in the back, neck and shoulder along with tingling, numbness and weakness in the hands, and an early development of poor posture, the list of long-term ill-effects is pretty long. It includes strain on the neck and shoulder leading to headaches, damage to the spine giving rise to problems like kyphosis (hunched back or spine bent forward), scoliosis (spine bent sideways), reduced breathing capacity due to pressure on the lungs resulting from a forward or sideways bent posture, back pains and muscle spasms as young adults which can be traced back to heavy schoolbags, permanent damage these growth centres leading to stunted or abnormal growth of the bones of the child, and so on.