A week ago, a nine-year-old fell 20 floors to his death in Tuen Mun. Witnesses said his heavy school bag caused him to topple over safety railings at the block of flats where he lived. However, it was not the first tragedy of this nature in Hong Kong. In 1994, a school bag caused an eight-year-old girl to fall to her death from a fourth floor classroom window. Over the years, people have been arguing about possible solutions to the problem. Why do these tragedies still repeat themselves? School bag policy attacked (SCMP, June 12, 1994) By Quinton Chan Headmasters and parents have blasted government moves to ease the load young children carry in their bags to school. Just-released Education Department guidelines urge publishers to produce smaller and lighter textbooks, and call on pupils to be more selective in the books they need each day. But legislators, who say their children are among those suffering from carrying dangerously heavy bags, will attack the policy at an Education Panel meeting on Friday. Their concern follows the death of an eight-year-old girl who lost her balance and plunged four floors from a classroom window, after her school bag slipped over her head and pulled her down. Health experts have also warned that young children who carry heavy bags to school every day - many weighing more than five kilograms - may suffer permanent injury. Students are forced to carry heavy bags daily because schools do not provide lockers or desk space to store their belongings. Education Department spokesman Chu Sau-kuen said officials met publishers last week to ask them to use thinner and lighter materials in textbooks. 'We have asked them to delete some unnecessary information from the books, use thinner paper and split textbooks into two,' he said. But Mr Chu said it was not clear if such new textbooks could be brought into the classroom in time for the coming school year. 'Publishers said they would consider it, but they were worried that splitting textbooks into two would bring objections from parents because it would be more expensive,' he said. The department's seven-point plan to reduce the weight of bags also encourages pupils to pack their school bags more carefully, advising them on what type of school bag to use and how to correctly carry them. Schools are also asked to review their timetables to find ways of allowing pupils to carry fewer books, and provide facilities for them to store stationery and personal items in school. They are also urged not to punish pupils who occasionally fail to bring books, or other items, to class. But headmasters said they faced great difficulties in following the guidelines. 'The Government has never provided any resources for us to buy lockers for pupils, so how can we achieve such goals?' said Lee Cheuk-fan, headmaster of Lok Sin Tong Primary School. Another headmaster, Cheng Ka-yee of Canossa Primary School, said: 'The education rules state pupils have to take Chinese, English and mathematics every day, so we tried our best to review the timetable, but pupils still have to face at least five subjects a day, meaning they have to carry a lot of books.' Many children overpack their bags with textbooks they do not need for the day's lessons. But parents said that although they already carefully pack their children's bags every day, the weight remains largely unchanged. Primary Five student Lee Shue-yu said: 'I pack my school bag every day, but it's still very heavy.' Her bag, which contained dozens of textbooks and exercise books, weighed more than five kilograms. Legislator Cheung Man-kwong said he was worried the physical development of his Primary Five daughter would be affected by her carrying a heavy school bag. Critics have urged the Government to provide lockers for all pupils, but Mr Chu said that would be impossible. 'We would have to buy more than 500,000 lockers. That would be very expensive and take up a lot space in the schools,' he said. Glossary blast (v) to express irritation and annoyance about call on (v) to formally ask someone to do something plunge (v) to descend or dip suddenly and rapidly permanent (adj) lasting forever or for a very long time in time (phrase) not too late for something occasionally (adv) not regularly or often state (v) to set by regulation critic (n) someone who expresses criticism of a policy or a system Discussion points How heavy is your school bag? What are the causes of the heavy school bag problem? Besides textbooks, some critics say there are things in students' bags, such as comic books and colouring pens, that they do not need. Sometimes there are also thick and heavy dictionaries, which people suggest to keep at home as reference. Do you agree? In what ways can the load of school bags be reduced?