Heavy school bags still a weighty issue
Overweight school bags and the impact they can have on children has long been acknowledged in Hong Kong. But almost two decades after the then education chief promised a series of measures to tackle the situation, the problem not only persists, it has become even worse
Overweight school bags have long been an issue of concern, so much so that it has prompted a local pro-Beijing party to track the weight of children’s backpacks for years. Lamentably, the problem is still weighing heavily without much improvement. Indeed, the situation has deteriorated, if the latest survey of 900 pupils by the Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong is any guide. It found that their school bags weighed an average 4.9kg, 63 per cent heavier than recommended. The figures are said to be the worst in 10 years.
The findings have raised questions over the effectiveness of government guidelines, which say children should avoid carrying bags which exceed one tenth of their body weight for long periods of time. Schools and parents are also given a wealth of practical advice on reducing how much children need to carry each day. But the survey has once again proved that the guidelines only exist on paper.
That nothing seems to have changed over the past two decades speaks volume of our education system. The issue was flagged by lawmakers in the Legislative Council as early as 1998, with the then education chief promising a series of measures to tackle the situation. This included installing lockers in schools, requiring schools to take into account the weight of textbooks when scheduling lessons in a day, encouraging publishers to break up materials into volumes, and developing good habits when packing bags. In 2003, a so-called “electronic schoolbag” pilot scheme was also implemented in 10 schools. Given the technological advances over the years, a lot more could and should have been done to further relieve pupils of their burden. The use of more e-learning materials and tablets instead of printed textbooks is an obvious way forward. But sadly, the results still leave much to be desired.
The health risks arising from carrying overweight school bags have been well known. Mental stress aside, children are also likely to develop backaches, neck pain, skeletal deformities and lung problems. We trust our stakeholders do not need more surveys and studies to tackle the problem seriously.