Reopen Schools And Colleges. Lockdown Everything Non-Essential.

The Government of India has opened up everything in COVID-19 Unlock, except for schools and colleges. The Central Government, which presided over all the aspects of Unlock, has handed over the decision-making for reopening of schools and colleges to the State Governments. They, in turn, are dragging their feet over how and when to reopen schools and colleges.

From the peak of 95,000 + cases, the current daily case-load has dropped below 50,000 cases. Yet, few Governments have dared to reopen schools and colleges. The second wave of COVID-19 infections is expected sometime after Diwali. If schools and colleges do not reopen, now, even when the cases are down by 50% from the peak, reopening has no chance to happen when the cases soar again.

This would mean that almost the entire academic year would be lost for the students in terms of not able to attend schools and colleges for in-person teaching. In such a grim scenario, what could be the option to salvage the situation? Is it possible to ensure that a generation of students does not miss out on the essential learning outcome of an entire year?

I propose: Reopen Schools and Colleges. Lockdown Everything Non-Essential.

The detractors will say that it is a silly/ridiculous/impractical suggestion with no saving grace. As a parent, a citizen and a human being, I am convinced about the feasibility of my suggestion. I argue as given below to support my proposition.

Is Education Essential or Non-Essential?

In the Unlock, the Government of India started reopening essential services in decreasing order of priority. Hence, the iterations of Unlock 1.0 to 5.0. Now, with everything else open and only schools and colleges remaining closed, how is the Central Government viewing the education? Is it essential or non-essential? Surely, it cannot be later.

Let us compare the criticality of education vis-a-vis other sectors already reopened. Restaurants, malls, hotels, theatres, non-essential shops like garments, electronics etc. are open. The public gatherings of all the denominations are allowed. The Bihar state election too got conducted in the middle of the pandemic. How would you rate the importance of all these as compared to education?

In fact, the logic of essential/non-essential can be flipped to gauge the significance of education. The Government considers the education to be of the utmost consequence, that it does not even consider to reopen schools and colleges. By keeping them shut, the Government is admitting that education is the most valued aspect for the country and it cannot be risked.

Everybody agrees that education is vital for the future of the country. Then, why not walk the talk?

Adverse Impact on Economy/Jobs

The critics of the suggestion to shut down everything non-essential, to reopen schools and colleges, will say that the economy will be devastated. They will say that an enormous number of jobs will be lost. They will say that the GDP will contract, the share-market will collapse, the investors’ will lose confidence in the country etc.

Look at the actual picture, as on date. Share-market has regained all the 2020 losses and is inching northwards. The forex reserves of the country are at a record high. The GST collections have crossed the psychological 1 lac crore mark in October. Even with most of Q1 2020-21 lost in a lockdown, the GDP contraction was limited to 24%. As per Government projections, it will turn positive soon.

The Government has announced the Atmanirbhar Bharat package amounting to 10% of the GDP. The RBI has drastically reduced the interest rates. EMI moratorium has been backed up with interest waiver. The Government is so flush with funds; it is going around paying Diwali bonus. With so much going for the economy, it can surely absorb the shock of a few months.

Everybody will agree that the economic losses are transient and the economy will recover, as it has done already. More so, the Government has stepped in to support livelihoods and will keep doing, as the situation demands. However, the learning outcome loss for students cannot be bridged. It is gone forever unless there is a zero academic year.

Nobody Wants a Zero Academic Year

Ramesh Pokhriyal has already said that the Government will not allow a zero academic year. He is right. Not just the Government, the schools and colleges, the parents and most of all, the students do not deserve a zero academic year. Now, if that is out of the question, what should be done about ensuring the learning outcome for all the students?

Please keep out the charade of online learning from the discussion. If quality education can be had from watching the screens, let’s dismantle the schools and colleges. Has online learning ensured that no child is left behind? Is access to online learning been fair and equitable? Has the Government made even any effort in this direction?

BTW, if online learning from home is so effective, the JEE/NEET should have been conducted with students at home. Why should the exams be away from home when the study is fine being at home? The Government would say that this is silly/absurd/impractical. If that is so, so is the step to not own up to reopen schools and colleges.

Everybody will agree that the Government is treating physical attendance in schools and colleges arbitrarily, as it suits its objectives.

Reopen Schools and Colleges

The children have the right to proper education. It is dreadful to rob the children of their chance to excel in future. To make matters worse, the children do not even know what they are losing out on. For sure, no parent would want to see their children get promoted irrespective of the learning outcome.

Is it right to focus on today’s economic gain at the cost of tomorrow’s knowledge loss?

It is time to get our priorities right. Let’s reopen schools and colleges. Lockdown everything non-essential.

PS: European countries did precisely this. In their first COVID-19 lockdown, they started unlocking with educational institutions. Now, in their second lockdown, they are shutting down the rest, but not educational institutions. They know that education is essential and they walk the talk; not shy away unlike our Government and us.

Reopening Of Schools Is The Final Frontier In India’s COVID-19 Unlock

Minister of Education, Ramesh Pokhriyal, announced on 10th August 2020 that there shall be no zero academic year for Indian students. However, he did not divulge any detail/plan for the reopening of schools. The Central Government covered all the sectors in COVID-19 Unlock but did not make a single statement about the reopening of schools – how and when, the nitty-gritty details.

Finally, on 5th October 2020, almost 2 months after the Minister’s proclamation, Union Education Ministry issued guidelines about the reopening of schools. Given the high stakes of the learning and education for the nation’s future citizens, in the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic, there were high expectations from the Government.

A parent would expect that the Government will take concrete steps in creating a safe and protected environment for the country’s children when they resume their physical schooling. A parent would expect that the guidelines will evoke trust and conviction about sending their wards to schools. In short, parents expected an assurance that their children shall receive the utmost care and caution.

So, what do the guidelines convey?

Only Exams Matter

As per the guidelines, students can attend schools only with the written consent of parents. This is brilliant, outright exceptional. With the COVID-19 cases at its peak, this is the same Government that pushed the students to give JEE and NEET entrance exams. The students protested, the parents objected but the Government would have none of it.

The Government made noises about the future of students at stake. The Supreme Court concurred. Why did the thought of “parental consent” not occur to the Government for these entrance exams? How are schools and exams different to warrant dissimilar treatment? How can the Government have different yard-sticks for similar contexts?

The Government might say that exams are one-off and schools are daily. So, does it imply that one-off exam/stress/travel/risk does not entail parental concern? Does it mean that parents do not bother/care for the well-being of their children when they go out to give exams?

In short, the Government considers itself empowered to take decisions on behalf of parents and students for entrance exams. However, when it comes to daily attendance in schools, it brings up the charade of “parental consent” being supreme.

Is this hypocrisy/incoherence or a simple fact that it is only the entrance exams that matter in the Indian educational system, the rest is optional. In this case, “parental consent” is not a guideline at all, it is a pretence. Irrespective of a student attending the school or not, s/he will be forced to give NEET and JEE, next year.

The Central Government Would Not Take Any Responsibility

For every Unlock measure, the Central Government has been the final authority. It decides, announces and ensures that everyone, including the opposition-led States follow the suit. However, when it has boiled down to the reopening of schools, surprise, surprise, it has left the final decision to the respective State Governments. It is a bit more than the sovereignty of exams that is driving the Central Government in its decision-making of reopening of schools.

This is the authoritarian Government of a one-man show. It does not trust any meaningful decision-making to even his Cabinet Ministers. It leaves no stone unturned to make everyone fall in line for its one size fits all approach. And, now suddenly, this control freak Government cedes control of the decision on reopening of schools. What’s going on?

Have you gone through the guidelines on the reopening of schools? None of them, repeat, none of them has any deliverable listed against the name of the Central Government. Apart from handing down far-fetched and absurd directives, it does not have any other tasks. No responsibility, no onus, no accountability.

The Central Government seems to have learnt from its utter failure of dealing with migrant workers’ plight during the lock-down. It has understood that it has no clue about the ground situation and it has no bandwidth to influence the outcome/solution of the problem. Better to stay away. This is showing up in the most unlikely field: reopening of schools.

If anything goes wrong, which it might as well, why to come in the firing line of parents? Why bear the brunt of the irate parents? Leave everything to the States and schools. In case of an outbreak, play the blame-game of not adhering to the guidelines, which are beyond anyone to follow.

Reopening of schools is the final frontier

In nutshell, all of us know that Indians will bear all the pain when it comes to their progeny. We live and die to better the prospects of our offspring. There is no wrath worse than that of the offended parent. So, better not deal with them for a problem that you cannot solve but can only theorize. Yes, the promise of a career of an engineer/doctor matter even more, so entrance tests are acceptable.

Nobody knows this better than Narendra Modi. Hence, reopening of schools is and shall remain the final frontier in India’s COVID-19 Unlock; no matter everything else has been unlocked.

Just that, this is neither going to help the future of Indian children in any manner by impacting their learning and education in a positive manner nor the state of the Indian economy.

Will anyone take the responsibility of educating India’s children, equitably and fairly, by owning up reopening of schools?

Zero Academic Year: It Is Time Government, Schools, Parents Agree And Act

Coronavirus has been raging in India. The cases are spiking daily. The Government’s strategy is to ease restrictions, as infections rise. However, a certain category of institutions remains shut and is expected to remain so in the foreseeable future – The Educational Institutions.

There is no opposition to the Government’s measures to lift the lockdown. Seemingly, the adults are fine when it comes to putting their lives at risk. But when it comes to the children, the parents are clear that they are going to remain at home. The Government also knows this and has stayed clear of opening up the schools and colleges; even the children parks.

Simultaneously, the parents also want to ensure that their wards do not miss out on education. The schools, too, would not want to be seen losing their supremacy on shaping up children’s future. The Government does not want to be considered behind the curve. As a result, online education has been lapped up by everybody concerned as a panacea to coronavirus induced lockdown of educational institutions.

However, the time has come to question the efficacy and the value of online education for children.

Education as Equalizer, and not Differentiator

Apart from many other roles, education is expected to play an extremely important function in providing equal opportunities to realize a child’s potential. Under the Right to Education Act, every child has a right to education of equitable quality.

With online education becoming a norm, it is anybody’s guess what would be happening to children in lower-income group families, rural and non-Metro households, Government schools etc. India’s programme to universalize primary education is “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan” meaning “Education for All Movement”. Needless to say, “Sarva”, that is “All” would surely not be covered by online learning.

It is up to Governments, Centre and States, private schools and parents of children participating in online education to take the initiative for Zero Academic Year. Would they want to perpetuate the privilege of already entitled students or be seen as promoting universal access and equal opportunity for children from vulnerable sections of the society, that are being left behind in these times?

Education as Learning, and not Grades

The Indian education system faces accusations that it promotes rote learning and puts a detrimental focus on grades, above everything else. The shove for online learning further accentuates this long-held notion.

The children are being told to sit in front of the screen, listen to a monologue and that is it. Is this how real learning, for that matter any kind of learning, supposed to happen?  I am sure this is not how private schools would want to show-case the learning environment in their schools.

The educators and Government need to raise the question if the children, across age-groups, are benefitting by online education. Are the children learning? Would they want to perpetuate the perception that it is only the examination at the end of the term that matters? And what happens during class-room teaching is just a needless distraction/pretence that online learning has successfully replaced?

Blended learning/Alternate attendance/Self-study

Several options are being floated to complete the syllabus, as and when the schools open. The most-talked option is 50% of the students present in the school on any given day. There is a jargon of blended learning, a combination of online and offline, doing the rounds. Some topics seem to be a contender for self-study by students.

June has ended. It does not look like coronavirus is going to wither away in two months. Meaning, the schools are not going to open before September, at best. With schools closed from last week of March, the teaching of the new term would have hardly started. This means that students would just get about six months in school to complete the syllabus. It is just not enough.

The teachers might run through the chapters, but the students cannot be expected to absorb so much of learning in so short a time. Would schools and parents want the foundation of the children to be strong or find them shaky in years to come?

Zero Academic Year

The parents having access to online education for their children might feel why should their children miss out on a year? The answer would be that this would be their contribution to a fair and equal society. No parent would want their children to be a part of society that promotes inequality for children. It is about “No Child Left Behind”.

Anyways, the efficacy of online education is highly debatable. There is no validity of what the children are gaining by sitting like a zombie in front of a screen.

Let the online education happen for those who want and who can, but not the promotion to the next grade. Lest we shall violate the principles of a just nation and the rights of the children to quality education.

Given the coronavirus, in the larger context of life ahead, a Zero Academic Year might be the best bet for children.

Language Policy In Indian Education: Pile It Up On The Children

I figured out how the Indian educational system initiates rote learning for students by turning upside down the LSRW approach in acquiring languages. However, I could not understand the reason, then.

I know that Indian students are taught multiple languages; I was a student myself, long back. However, I was taken aback when I read that currently, NCERT recommends that students learn a minimum of five (5) languages in their schooling years.

The quote from NCERT website: We strongly believe that all children should leave school with CALP (Cognitive Advance Language Proficiency) in at least three languages; they should of course know a couple of others at least at the level of BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills).

Now, I think I can connect the dots. The Indian education system has no option but to upturn the LSRW approach for teaching languages. They have to torture the child with so many languages and ensure that there is some resemblance of learning at the end of it. There is no time for the conventional time-taking methodical LSRW approach. What has to be done? Pile it up on the children. Bash on regardless. Focus on Writing, Reading might follow later. The student is left on her/his own for Speaking and Listening.

This brings us to the larger picture of what is the language policy in Indian Education and what purpose it serves?

The Language Policy

The Constitution, adopted in 1950, necessitated that English and Hindi be utilized for conducting the Union’s official business for a time of fifteen years [s. 343(2) and 343(3)]. After that time, Hindi should turn into the sole official dialect of the Union. This did not happen. What to do now?

  • Education policymakers knew that Hindi cannot be disrespected, so teach Hindi.
  • They recognized that English is not going to leave the Indian shores, so teach English.
  • Now, they became conscious that except for the northern states, Hindi is not the mother tongue for the rest of the citizens of the country. So, teach the third language.
  • Sanskrit is practically not used anywhere in the country. But we cannot forget the glorious past of the country. So, teach the fourth language.
  • Now, with so many commissions and omissions, we are bound to step on the toes of some of the communities and religions. To respect their feelings, teach the fifth language.

I know I made the above explanation up. However, there is no other practical way of explaining this silly obsession of teaching five languages to students.

The language policy takes into account the reality of multilingualism, the push and pulls of regionalism, the political need to carry every religion and community together and the inevitability of English. The hotchpotch ragtag mishmash jumble of teaching five languages is the incorrigible output.

Just that, it fails to take into account the audience for this folly of a policy. The children pay the price for this craziness and bear the brunt of taking the load of studying five languages.

The Purpose

NCERT dutifully mentions “We should also note that several recent studies have effectively demonstrated the positive relationship of multilingualism with cognitive growth, social tolerance, divergent thinking and scholastic achievement.” NCERT does not give a link to any of these studies.

I am not aware of any other country in the world that is teaching five languages to their children. Would other countries not be aware of what their children are missing out on by not studying five languages? This seems to be a well-guarded secret by Indian educationists.

Indian society is as much an inequitable and discriminatory as it can be. When it comes to social ills and leaving the marginal and vulnerable sections unprotected, benefits of multilingualism, as quoted by NCERT, seems to have bypassed India.

Rather, I feel that by making a child focus on so many languages simultaneously, Indian education system ensures that the child does not master any. Leave aside becoming a master of languages, s/he would abhor the languages. Do you need proof? Check the number of students opting for JEE/NEET and those opting for humanities at +2 level.

I agree that bilingualism is helpful for the child, but it is about two languages. Why is the third language getting added to the conundrum? The further addition of the fourth and fifth language is a sheer torment of young minds.

Would NCERT be conducting alternative studies that limiting the languages for school children to a maximum of two would lead to a better academic outcome? Apart from letting children enjoy their childhood, seemingly an objective that is long forgotten.

Apart from increasing the weight of school bags, I see no purpose of the language policy in Indian education.

What would be your views about the language policy in Indian education and the purpose it serves?

PS: I do not think, though, five languages are being taught to children anywhere in the country. It is another silly government rule that no school cares to follow. Even though the children are burdened with 3/4 languages, and that itself is too many.

LSRW: Where And How Rote Learning Starts In Indian Educational System

LSRW is considered a natural way of acquiring a language. A child is expected to go through the four stages of LSRW in sequential order. A child would first listen to the mother tongue spoken around her/him. At the second stage, the child learns to speak – makes sounds, moves on to alphabets, small words and gradually, the sentences. The third stage would be reading – picture books and tactile material, establishing a relationship with letters and words. The last stage would be writing.

The above is how LSRW (Listen Speak Read Write) is expected to function for a child when s/he acquires a new language. However, the Indian educational system has turned this principle upside down and come up with an opposite version for the language learning of Indian students.

Disclaimer: I am a stay-at-home father, since the last three years, to my now five and a half-year-old twin daughters. My wife and I are also trying to develop a sort of home-schooling for the girls. In the process, I try to figure out how the Indian education system of curriculum, schools, books, NCERT, methodology etc work. This is how I stumbled upon LSRW and the below are my views on its utter disregard in the Indian educational system.

Writing as a rote skill

Have you ever considered what is taught to children in the play-school/school? Invariably, in the majority of the schools, writing will be an integral part of whatever the child is exposed to. And that too, it will be in English.

Have you ever wondered why the reading does not precede writing in Indian schools? I guess that reading cannot be dictated, reading cannot be forced, reading cannot be made to order. After all, reading is an age-appropriate skill. The child will learn to read, only when s/he is ready to read. However, writing is a flexible skill and amenable to manipulation.

The schools make the child write alphabets, words and short sentences, even though the child in the natural course of things has not encountered them. Ideally, the child should be able to read and comprehend what s/he is writing, but here the child is made to write irrespectively.

In short, Indian schools force-teach writing, preceding reading and in many instances, even before the speaking and listening happen. After all, the probability of English as a mother tongue for us, Indians, is fairly remote.

The rot starts with NCERT

I was wondering how schools could turn the LSRW on its head and get away with it. Unsurprisingly, they have been given a go-ahead by NCERT, itself. The below two quotes are from NCERT website.

“For a very long time now, we have been talking in terms of LSRW skills as the objectives of languages teaching. This exclusive focus on discrete skills has had fairly adverse consequences.”

NCERT does not bother to list even one of what these adverse consequences are.

“We now plead for a more holistic perspective on language proficiency. After all, when we are Speaking, we are also simultaneously Listening and when we are Writing, we are also Reading in a variety of ways.”

Yes, NCERT is right. When we speak, we also listen, for listening precedes speaking. When we write, we also read, for reading precedes writing. NCERT uses the correct order of LSRW and then reverses the interpretation when it comes to actual implementation. NCERT maintains stoic silence on the holistic perspective on language proficiency and does not go beyond bashing up LSRW.

Thus, NCERT gives its blessing to schools to take up Writing as the first step in language teaching. In the process, NCERT does not cite any study/argument/logic to arrive at its convoluted inference.

The above two points are at actuals. You can see them in execution in schools and read in NCERT’s website, in letter and spirit. The third point is my interpretation of the first two points.

Schools and parents lap up writing

Formal environment for kids in India is big business. They charge a bomb. So, they have to also deliver, something. Unfortunately for them, reading as a skill cannot be delivered. Speaking as a skill takes time. In a short period, what is possible is writing. So, the child writes.

Education and learning are tangible, as well as intangible. We, Indian parents, understand and believe what we see a child doing. We do not tend to bother much about what is indeterminate. A child writing is a perceptible occurrence and it makes us happy that our child is learning. So, the child writes.

Summing Up

The educationists, the parents, everyone bemoans that the Indian educational system promotes rote learning. Basis of my interpretation of LSRW, I believe that rote learning starts early, very early in the Indian educational system.

It starts with the un-natural preference for writing, a skill that should come last in the natural order of skills to be learnt for a child to acquire a language and we teach it first before any other language skill is picked up by the child. I did not find a single article on this on the internet, neither for nor against. Seemingly, it is not a topic of discussion.

We are trying to follow LSRW with our twin daughters. Let us see how it unfolds.

What are your views on LSRW and the Indian educational system?

5 Things Online Learning Tells Us About Indian Educational System

With the coronavirus induced lockdown, online learning is the new buzz word doing rounds in the Indian educational system. The schools and colleges are shut. The students and teachers are at home. Supposedly, the future of India is at stake. What has to be done? Online learning is the answer to all the coronavirus ills affecting the education sector.

The Honourable Union Cabinet Minister of HRD Ramesh Pokhriyal in every interaction with media and parents drops the name of online learning without fail. Every private school worth it’s salt has latched on to online learning bandwagon in some form or the other. Parents have to share their screens with the off-springs and they are more than willing for this intrusion.

There is no iota of opposition from any quarters about this charade of online learning in India. After all, it is an optimal application of the available technology for the noble purpose of educating future citizens. What would be wrong in that? Read on.

Right To Education – I

RTE Act, passed in 2009, is an obligation on the Government to provide and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6-14 age group.  RTE puts the onus on the Government for the education of a child and not the parent.

Now, which sane person in India would claim that parents of children going to government schools would be having access to a smart-phone to enable online learning for their children? If the parents cannot afford a smart-phone, how can a child access online learning?

The Government has conveniently palmed off its responsibility of ensuring education to government school children to parents. It has not even put up a facade. The Government talks about online learning happening in private schools and not government schools. The Government has left the students of her schools to fend for themselves. Who is going to bother, anyway?

This makes it amply clear that the Government of India was never bothered or interested in education in government schools in the first place. This is the first learning from online learning fuss.

Right To Education – II

The RTE Act requires all private schools to reserve 25% of seats for the poor and other categories of children. If there was ever a doubt that private schools are following the RTE Act in letter and spirit, the online learning drama puts it to rest.

All the private schools are gung-ho about online learning and claim that their functioning is going-on as usual. There is not even a smallest of whimper that a certain section of students is missing out on this initiative. The private schools claim that the parents and the children laud their execution and all of them are a part of their programme.

Does it occur to anyone that when 25% of students are admitted from the vulnerable sections of the society, how can cent per cent of the population be a part of the online learning plan? There have to be some students that will fall through the sieve, but astonishingly there are none.

One can say that this 25% of the children, in the reserved category, have parents that can afford a smart-phone and facilitate their online education. If anyone falls for this bluff, I am the reincarnation of Ashoka, The Great.

This entire ado about online learning in private schools only means that 25% of reserved seats under RTE were never filled by those it was meant for. This is a scandal that nobody will ever talk about; neither the Government nor the private schools and most sadly, not the parents of children studying in those schools. The second learning.

It Is All About Fees, Stupid

The private schools would want to continue charging their fees, even with the coronavirus lockdown. They surely cannot charge transport fees, mess fees, uniform fees and other miscellaneous heads. However, they want to cling on to their tuition fees – after all, this contributes the maximum to their coffers. How to go about this? Online learning is the answer.

With the online learning, the private schools can formally and legitimately show that they are delivering as per their promise and hence the parents are liable to pay their share of fees.

Would anyone dare challenge the efficacy of online learning and make a claim for pro-rata deduction in tuition fees? No ways. The private schools would claim 100% effectiveness of their programme and hence, the 100% collection of fees. After all, there is no one to call their bluff. The third learning.

The Proof Of The Pudding Is NOT In The Eating

So, online learning is delivering. Great. Let’s have an online examination. Where did the backers of online learning vanish? Why is the Honourable Union Cabinet Minister shying away? Why are the private schools completely silent on this aspect? Even the parents are not supportive of this idea.

What use is online learning if there is no online examination? An elephant has two sets of teeth, one for chewing and one for showing. So, is the case of online learning. The fourth learning.

Never Let A Child Be A Child

Coronavirus lockdown is the first extended opportunity for a child to spend time with her/his family up-close. This is the time for the child to learn first-hand what goes on in the household and figure out ways and means to be of help to the parents. This is the occasion to develop empathy for fellow citizens facing a harrowing time and create a base for real-time life learnings.

If nothing else, let the child be a child. Play. Rest. Explore. Connect. Freedom. No, the Zoom class beckons.

The Indian educational system would not let the child be a child, EVER. The fifth learning.

After all, the weight of school bags is not going to reduce in India.

Weight of school bags is not going to reduce in India

The government of India has passed the order restricting the weight of school bags of the students. The order limits the weight of the school bags of class I and II student to 1.5 kg. The school bag of class III to V student should not exceed 3 kg and the same of class VI-VII students has been restricted to 4 kg, of class VIII–IX student to 4.5 kg and class X student to 5 kg.

On the face of it, the order looks great. The parents, the educationists, the schools, the media – all have welcomed the step taken by the government. Now, the question is – Is the heavy school bag a problem in itself or is it a symptom of a greater order malaise affecting the Indian education system?

After all, the weight of school bags does not increase on its own. The child has no say in what to carry and what not to carry in the school bag. So the child cannot be responsible for the heavy school bags. Who is responsible for the weight of school bags? What goes into increasing the weight of school bags? Without answering or at the least, raising these questions, the government of the day has passed the order restricting the weight of school bags.

I suppose there are three issues plaguing the weight of school bags. All the three are known to everybody. The first is evident to all on a daily basis. The second issue can only be spoken about anonymously. The third is so much interwoven in our lives, that we would not be even aware of it.

The school timings

Majority of the school timings are for 8 hours – 8.30 am to 3.30 pm. Even for the class I and II, rather seemingly for all the classes. Now, when a child has to spend 8 hours in a school, it would be expected that the child has to carry enough material to occupy herself/himself throughout the day. (A full-grown working adult spends 8 hours in the office. A growing child also spends 8 hours in school. Unlike her / his parents, a child also has to participate in extra-curricular activities, project report, homework, prepare for exams – wonder where is the childhood?)

Unless the school timings get curtailed, the weight of school bags will not reduce. One may argue that will the weight of school bags definitely come down with the reduction of school timings? The answer is no due to the other two issues. However, the reduction in school timings is the first step in bringing down the weight of school bags. Else, what will schools do with the children for 8 long hours?

The school fees

This is the elephant in the room that nobody talks about. The school fees per annum in India range from 40-50 k to 1 lac to 2 lacs to 3 lacs to 4 lacs to 5 lacs to 6 lacs to 7 lacs and more. This is without transportation and food. I am not sure about the other incidental expenses.

Now with such exorbitant fees, the schools need to have the 8-hour school shifts. Else, what all will they claim in a 5-hour shift for charging such high fees? With these fees, the schools need to show the parents that their children are learning something very important. Hence the weight of school bags. Even for schools with lesser fees, they need to stand in the market. They also need to show that they are up to something. How do they do it? The weight of school bags.

Again, one may argue that the school fees are important for the schools to invest in infrastructure, teachers etc for a better learning output for the children. Well, if a school fee of 6-7 lacs per year is a pre-requisite for a successful learning environment and results, all other schools can very well be shut down for spoiling the future of other lesser children.

One will not speak about the school fees openly lest his / her child studying in one of those schools face an issue from the school management.

With these two issues of inflated school fees leading to 8-hour school timings, the weight of school bags is not going to come down.

The parental expectations

Narayana schools start their Medichamps programme and eTechno programme for cracking medical entrance and IIT-JEE from standard 6 onwards. The government has restricted weight of school bags for standard 6 students at 4 kg. Now when the child has started studying for something that is 7 years away, what is to be expected of the weight of school bags?

Expectations from a child get so much ingrained in an Indian parental mind that it has to manifest itself somewhere in a tangible form for a parent to be convinced that the child is on the right path. Nothing better than the weight of school bags.

Conclusion

Indian laws and rules suffer from practical execution issues. This government order is no better. Who is going to ensure that the weight of school bags is as per the norms? The schools, the parents, the government – Who?

If the parents/schools are so concerned about the weight of school bags of the children, they can address the issue themselves. The schools would not do, for that affects their profits. The parents would not do, for that affects the perceived future of their children. The government, anyways, would not do anything apart from passing orders (they run anganwadis and government schools with no stellar records, rather no records at all).

For all I know, the weight of school bags might get transferred to a smartphone/tablet someday and everybody, but the child, will claim success.

PS:

i. “As per the curriculum, six textbooks have been prescribed for classes VI to X. Three textbooks for three languages and one for Maths, Science and Social Studies each,” said the circular. “There shall be one notebook for each subject for exercises, projects, Unit Test, experiments etc. which the students need to bring as per timetable. Students should not be asked to bring additional books, extra material to the school.” The above adds up to 5 books, including the textbook, for each subject. With 6 subjects, this becomes 30 books. Even if the child carries 50% of the books, how it will remain within the limit of 4 kgs for a class VI student?

ii. As per education experts, heavy bag brings stress on the child due to which back pain and muscle pain occur. The posture of the child also gets affected by the heavy load of the school bag carried on the back. Apart from the visible physical stress, there is no mention of the mental trauma of a child. He has to study for 8 long hours whatever he carries and, needless to say, the expectations of the parents.