Organisation is the key to success. A place for everything and everything in its place. These proverbs that encapsulate the importance of organising and taking responsibility were inextricably woven into the convent education I received in India during the 1960s.
A piece of advice a nun used to proffer relates particularly well to the problem of the increasingly heavy school bag. She said: "Students should bear some responsibility for their huge daily burden, by organising their bags before going to bed each night."
A Maltese study of 1,505 students randomly selected from 28 schools identified the heaviest items in their bags as text books, followed by thick notebooks and files, lunch boxes, bottles and juice cartons, and materials such as sports kits and items for home economics.
It is universally acknowledged that the maximum load that should be carried by students is related primarily to their body weight.
While the often-quoted ratio of 10 per cent of body weight cannot be rigidly applied, school bags that are 20 per cent or more of a child's body weight must be regarded as excessively heavy.
"Studies indicate that 96 per cent of students carry school bags which are heavier than 15 per cent of their weight," says Dr Grace Szeto Pui-yuk, an associate professor at the Polytechnic University's department of rehabilitation sciences. This has resulted in four to five in every 1,000 Hong Kong students suffering from scoliosis - a condition where the spine curves from side to side - according to the department of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Hong Kong medical school.
Suggestions to alleviate this problem have included changing the type of backpacks students carry, doing away with books, using e-text books, online resources and providing a class set of text books.
An informal survey in one of my science classes revealed that several students headed straight after school to tutorial centres and also carried special tuition books. Some students had their pencil cases filled with enough writing instruments to see them through to the International Baccalaureate, and others had a separate notebook for each subject.
If your child has pains in their shoulders or back on arriving home or if your child is having a hard time finding things in his/her school bag, you may find these suggestions useful:
- Encouraging the systematic use of files instead of notebooks will help reduce the weight of school bags for secondary students.
The operative word is "systematic". Students can take just one working file, with dividers for each subject (neatly labelled, of course) to school.
- Work sheets should be periodically "downloaded" into individual subject files, which should be maintained at home, to ensure that loose sheets don't become lost sheets. Numbering the sheets sequentially also helps.
- Lab coats and PE shoes can be kept in lockers and taken home periodically for cleaning over weekends.
- Keep a few spare writing instruments in the locker and keep the pencil case light. Buddy up with another student to alternate bringing text books to classes. When it's your child's turn to share a text book, it should be kept in the locker.
- Lockers should be visited in the morning and the school bag packed with resources for lessons before lunchtime.
Revisit lockers before leaving school, ensuring text books for homework are either at home or packed into the bag.
- Buy a few snacks and drinks for your child to keep in their locker and help maintain a list of books stored there. Label belongings and get a good lock. Supervise your child's learning of systematic organisation.
The school bag problem should be addressed as part of an ongoing exercise aimed at enabling students to take control of their lifestyle in order to improve their health.
Anjali Hazari teaches the IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School