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Hong Kong schools

Most Hong Kong primary pupils carry overweight school bags, survey finds

Study by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong finds that the average weight of a pupil’s bag was almost 5kg

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 8:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 2:18pm

Some 80 per cent of more than 900 primary pupils in Hong Kong are carrying overweight school bags, with most as heavy as 4.9kg, according to a citywide survey.

The study, by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) covering schools in 18 districts, was carried out over the past two weeks.

The average weight of school bags was found to be 4.9kg, which was 63.3 per cent heavier than the recommended standard of 3kg – or about 10 per cent of the average body weight of the carrier.

Such surveys have been carried out nine times since 2006. The burden on children’s shoulders this year was as bad as the result in 2015 – the worst over the past decade.

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“I told my parents my bag was too heavy but they didn’t pay attention,” said primary three pupil Ng Yee-man, who was going home by herself from the Ling To Catholic School in Ho Man Tin.

Ng was carrying a school bag weighting 4.2kg, equivalent to more than 16 per cent of her body weight, above the 10 per cent limit advised by the Department of Health.

She could not even lift her school bag after she took it off to be weighed after school on Monday.

Ng’s schoolmate, Chan Tin-yu, 8, weighed 36.4kg, had a heavier school bag of 5.8kg but an easier journey home because her mother was carrying the bag for her.

Chan said she was carrying books needed for eight subjects, as well as her stationery, water bottle and lunchbox.

“I have never thought about complaining to the school because all students are used to carrying such heavy bags,” said Chan’s mother, adding that she would continue to help her daughter instead of “bothering the school” as long as the books were needed for her studies.

When asked if the school should provide lockers for students to keep their books, the mother said that “it would be nice”.

Children are still damaging their spines by carrying school bags that are too heavy

Lockers for students were among the eight suggestions the DAB concluded from its latest survey, among which the most prioritised was asking the Education Bureau to provide subventions for schools so that large numbers of textbooks could be bought for pupils to share on campus.

Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, deputy secretary general of the DAB, said the idea of sharing textbooks was considered better than recycling textbooks or electronic textbooks for reducing pupils’ burden.

“The Education Bureau has been encouraging pupils and schools to recycle textbooks but it takes much effort to thoroughly clean up the old books – for example erasing all written answers to the exercises, and the use of electronic textbooks might bring more harm to the children’s eyes,” said Cheng.

Ip Kin-yuen, a lawmaker representing the education sector, said sharing textbooks, which has been implemented in some foreign countries, was worth further discussion, in which the condition of books and the potential impact on publishers must be taken into account.

Ip said there were also other solutions to reduce the weight on young shoulders.

“We might need to rethink if daily class sessions in primary schools, which are usually nine to 10, can be reduced so that students can carry fewer books with them,” said Ip.

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And for teachers, the “weight and price of textbooks should also be considered in choosing textbooks so that both the physical and economic burdens on students can be lessened”, said the Legislative Council member.

In response to the sharing proposal, an Education Bureau spokesperson said schools were welcome to identify resources from their grants provided by the bureau to purchase extra books for students if it was found necessary. The bureau has been sending letters to schools every year with guidance for both schools and parents on reducing the weight of school bags.

The official guidance advised parents to help their young children pack their school bag with the minimum necessary number of books, and schools to provide storage facilities on campus.