There have been several debates and discussion on the issue of heavy school bags, a cause of great concern for parents, children and school authorities for many years now. Child counsellors, psychologists and educationists have often highlighted that heavy bags have negative consequences for the health and well-being of students and everyone agrees that the weight needs to be reduced. But despite several circulars issued to schools, students continue to carry the burden of homework and heavy schoolbags.
On December 8 this year, the Union Ministry of Education announced the ‘Policy on School Bag 2020’ in line with the New Education Policy 2020. and opined that the total weight of a student’s school bag (for students from class 1 to 10) should not be more than 10 per cent of their body weight. The Ministry also recommended that schools monitor the weight of the bags on regular basis.
The New School Bag Policy is a defining feature of the NEP in that it is consonant with the trend towards digilitisation of education, which was fast-forwarded in large measure due to the sudden onset of the COVID 19 pandemic. The dramatic disruption of school curriculum and schedules by the pandemic prompted the educational system to shift to online education and now it has become ubiquitous. The true impact of digital education and its benefits have become evident as online learning has taken off in a big way with wholehearted acceptance from the school community. Digital education is the way forward in solving many critical gaps in education and enhancing the experience and outcomes so that the student can go bag less.
This is the perfect time to implement these recommendations under NEP 2020 where everyone from teachers to students to parents is now digitally trained for imparting and recieving education. There are so many applications and learning enabled software in place, which can now help students go to school bagless.
With this policy in place, the way forward for schools should be to leverage the current situation and utilize it as an opportunity. Almost all the private and government schools have had to shift to online mode, with varying degree of success. Thanks to technology, not only can teaching learning happen digitally with help of great content, but homework and tests can all be conducted online with great ease, further reducing the need for students to carry textbooks to schools, lightening up their bags.
Post Covid too, schools should follow the new blended learning model and enhance digital skills so that the learning should never stop at any point - be it holidays, winter or summer breaks or any other unforeseen events which can lead to loss of school days.
The new school bag policy is a good move for many reasons. The school authorities should conduct a meeting at the beginning of the academic year to ensure fair distribution of textbooks so that it can be followed throughout the year. The schools can provide digital diaries to all the students. Besides this, the assignments and practice papers can be made available via email. Much of the paper work and the printed word can be simply transferred online or digital textual references.
Apart from the measures outlined above, schools need to give more emphasis on ‘learning by doing’ to enhance the creative skills of the student. Schools must work on building analytical skills and develop scientific acumen in the students. This will reduce dependence on textbook learning and will consequently reduce the reliance on bags. Moreover, it will allow students to be better time managers and utilize their time to learn new skills when they are at home.
This policy will also require schools to introduce infrastructural changes. The introduction to the locker and storage facility at school can give students a place to safely keep their books and copies in school so that they can carry a light school bags. In addition to lockers, schools can provide extra hours in the form of day boarding where students can spend more time with teachers and complete their homework in school.
If some of the measures are taken in right earnest, the school bag policy will certainly bring big relief to school children. It is a step towards changing the perception of studies literally being a burden. This policy will not only reduce the weight on their backs but it will also reduce the mental baggage they carry every day to schools.
To sum up, the policy is to be seen as an attempt to rebalance the traditional teaching-learning mode, by incorporating E-learning and promote the blended learning approach - the phygital model which is now accepted as the future of education. Schools have already accepted and acknowledged the need for technology in education – the time is right to move the learning experience from the physical to the digital sphere - and this policy is a move in the right direction.
(The author is Founder and Managing Director, Fliplearn Education)