Bending over backwards to resolve weighty bag debate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 November, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 November, 1994, 12:00am

TAM YIU-CHUNG, Henry Tang, Tik Chi-yuen.

Three proud fathers with nary a political principle in common.

But on the health of their children's backbones they stand united.

The subject was schoolbags and the mood in Legco was one of unprecedented harmony and consensus.

Even the Government agreed.

This took some of the sting out of Mr Tam's question.

In view of the concern expressed by parents and the medical profession about the harmful effect on the spines of students caused by carrying heavy school bags, he asked, would the Government be putting more money into equipping schools with lockers for the storage of textbooks and students' belongings? And would it be issuing guidelines to publishers suggesting the use of lighter paper in textbooks to ease the scholars' burden? Yes on both counts, said Acting Secretary for Education and Manpower Lam Woon-kwong. The Government aimed to provide 36,000 lockers in 345 schools and all new primaries would have them.

Publishers were being asked to use lighter paper, eliminate blank pages and use narrower margins, all in an attempt to reduce the weight of schoolbags.

'Any other measures?' asked Mr Tam, lamely.

Well . . . enumerated Mr Lam, mentally counting his fingers, the Education Department had urged schools, teachers and parents to co-operate to reduce the number of books needed each day; asked schools to revise their timetables so that not so many subjects need be taught in one day; and suggested schools provide drinking water so children did not need to bring bottles.

And, yes, he told Anna Wu, the Government would also discuss the use of loose-leaf textbooks which could be even lighter, cheaper and easier to update.

Up stood Mr Tik to ask if the Government set a maximum optimum weight for a school bag.

Ten per cent of the child's weight was the guideline, said Mr Lam. But it couldn't be too strict, because '10 per cent to a 50 lb (22.7 kilogram) student and 10 per cent to an 80 lb student may be different'. While legislators struggled to remember the relevant school maths to work this out, From the Gallery reflected the secretary might have hit on the explanation for one of the most puzzling social phenomena: the startling increase in child obesity.

Too intimidated by their children's schools to 'co-operate' in reducing bag-weight as Mr Lam suggested, parents may actually be fattening their children up to meet the 10 per cent requirement. Perhaps Mr and Mrs Tik have been receiving peremptory notes from teacher threatening expulsion unless Tik Junior puts on 9 kg by Lunar New Year.

Mr Tang showed he was a New Man. He not only knew the age (six) and weight (27 kg) of his son, he said he knew the weight of his bag (at least 4.5 kg) because he packed it himself every morning.

Wasn't it about time the Government introduced whole-day schooling, he asked, to give children time to do their homework at school? That was the Government's long-term aim, Mr Lam reassured him. In the meantime, please co-operate with the school.

Philip Wong seemed not to realise this was a be-kind-to-children issue. Shouldn't lockers be fitted with transparent doors, he suggested, so they could not be used to hide drugs? Mr Lam thought this was probably an unnecessary intrusion on primary school children's privacy.

Finally, Leong Che-hung came up with a question Mr Lam hadn't thought of. Did the Government have any figures on the number of children suffering from curvature of the spine because of heavy school bags? Mr Lam didn't think so.

Time the Government did some homework.