Schoolbags pose weighty problem

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 February, 1999, 12:00am

Primary student Gary Wong Ming-hong carries 'a very big stone' to school every day, as he describes it.

The nine-year-old Primary Five pupil at Chan Lai Sau Chun Memorial School said his five-kilogram schoolbag is stuffed with textbooks, often unused study materials, exercise books, paper, dictionary and stationery.

Ming-hong weighs 30 kilograms; at five kilograms, his schoolbag is 17 per cent of his body weight, exceeding Education Department guidelines that schoolbags should not exceed 10 per cent of a student's body weight.

'My shoulders are painful and I am exhausted when I have to climb stairs and walk around with my schoolbag,' he said.

Overweight schoolbags continue to be a controversial issue. At a recent Legislative Council meeting, Democratic Party legislator and president of Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union Cheung Man-kwong tabled a motion urging the Government, schools and parents to take action on the matter.

Mr Cheung cited a study which revealed the average primary student's schoolbag weighed 4.9 kilograms and those of secondary students weighed 6.3 kilograms.

He said the problem was linked to an unnecessarily heavy and intensive curriculum.

Lack of lockers Mr Cheung called on the Government to provide more school lockers and urged publishers to use light-weight paper for textbooks. Teachers should also advise students to only bring necessary study materials to class, he said.

Secretary for Education and Manpower Joseph Wong Wing- ping said schools, students, parents and textbook publishers should be responsible for resolving this problem.

He also said the Government would conduct a study on the use of lockers in schools. Long- term solutions to the problem would include a review of education policy, curriculum reform and the improvement of school facilities.

However, students and teachers said they felt lockers would only partially resolve the prob lem of heavy schoolbags. Tang King Po School student Billy Lai said most schools cannot provide lockers for every student - and the lockers provided are often not big enough.

English teacher Mandy Au Hoi-man at Lok Sin Tong Leung Wong Wai Fong Memorial School (AM) said parents should advise their children to bring only what's necessary to school.

Ms Au said the intensive school curriculum was also to blame. 'The target-oriented curriculum and intensive study schedule also make students bring more textbooks and sup plementary study materials to school.' Hong Kong Educational Publishers Association president Wong Wai-man said some publishers had attempted to use lighter paper for textbooks or split large textbooks into several parts to reduce weight.

However, Mr Wong said using lighter paper did not help the situation much.

The problem stemmed from the examination-oriented education system and schools not providing enough lockers, he said. 'Our children need to do a lot of homework and parents don't teach their children to bring just the textbooks they need to school,' he said.