“WOULD you like to be a schoolboy again?” asks South African band Asylum Kids in their 1981 song Schoolboy. “No! No! No!” comes the fierce reply.
While there certainly are reasons one may look back fondly on one’s school days, there are some things that we can all agree were pretty awful.
One such candidate for the list of “definitely awful” has got to be schoolbags. Every pupil knows the pain of having to lug around a backpack full of overpriced textbooks all day, the bag only getting heavier as the day wore on. We’ve all been there and we all have our own stories to tell.
But what if the pain was more than metaphorical? Surely having to carry a heavy weight for hours on end, five days a week, must have some sort of effect on the bodies of schoolchildren? Schoolchildren who, it should be remembered, are still in a highly developmental stage of their growth?
The GO! & Express set out to find an answer.
First, we weighed a number of schoolbags from a random selection of pupils in Grades 8 to 12. According to our findings, the average weight of a school bag is about approximately 9.26kg. It may not seem like a lot, but when one considers the fact that, according to East London-based physiotherapist Bronwen Hall, students pupils should optimally only carry a bag that weighs between 10% to 15% of their own body weight, one can start to see the problems arising.
Our next step was to get in touch with various schools and see what they had to say about this issue. At the time of going to print, only Hudson Park Primary School and Clarendon Girls High School for Girls had responded to our questions.
We asked them if their administrations thought the weight of schoolbags was a problem for their pupils.
Problems arise from Grade 4 Four upwards where many pupils feel the need to carry most of their text- and work-books and workbooks in their bags “because they are afraid they might suddenly need it or are worried they will forget one”.
That said, Hudson Primary did explain that they were taking steps to lessen the need for textbooks among pupils which should help lessen the weight of their bags.
Clarendon High, however, saw bag weight as a more serious problem.
“The weight of the bags for the girls is a problem … many pupils students complain of back or s/shoulders pain and it affects their posture.”
While Grade 8 pupils students have a tablet device which contains their textbooks, they are still left with five to nine notebooks, as well as extra English readers. For grades 9 to – 12, who don’t have electronic devices, things are worse.
“The Grade 9 bags seem to be the heaviest,” said Clarendon, “as they have nine subjects [some days all of their subjects on one day].”
Clarendon said they had received complaints from parents. “There are girls receiving going to physiotherapy with back problems.”
This is backed up by Hall, who said she has seen students come in with back and neck pain related to heavy school bags. She also says that there is research which shows that more than 80% of children have reported neck, shoulder, and upper back pain caused by carrying heavy school bags.
Of course, all this begs the question: Why not just use lockers or wheelie bags so pupils students don’t have to carry all that weight?
A good question and one we did ask. Both Clarendon and Hudson Primary provide lockers (or some equivalent) for their pupils. At Hudson, Foundation Phase students pupils are given bag compartments which are not locked while Grades 4 to 7 all have a pigeon hole in their classroom. Grades 5 to 7 are given a small locker. of their own. While Clarendon does have lockers available, they are given out on a first-come, first-served basis and pupils are required to pay a R60 annual fee. each year. Even then, “some girls don’t use the locker as much as they should as there is often no is not time to change books during break”.
As for wheelie bags, Hudson Primary said pupils are free to use them as long as they adhere to the official school colours. Meanwhile, at Clarendon, pupils have to get a doctor’s note if they want to swap their backpack for a wheelie bag.
All this should be worrying to parents since, according Hall, forcing students to carry heavy school bags can cause serious damage to children. “Carrying heavy school bags can lead to low back pain, upper back pain, as well as stiff and sore shoulder muscles,” she said. “Muscle imbalances can develop by the unnatural pull of bags on the shoulders which can lead to chronic problems if not addressed. Continued use of carrying their bag over one shoulder only can lead to postural scoliosis (a sideways curvature of the spine).”
With all that said, there are ways schools can work to alleviate this whole situation. Allowing wheelie bags and providing enough lockers for all students is an obvious start but there are more options.
Schools can ensure students wear their current backpacks correctly in order to minimise damage. Hall has some recommendations.
“It is important that bags have adjustable, wide, padded straps that can be shortened to ensure that there is no gap between the bag and the pupil’s student’s back. The bag should be carried by using both straps in order to distribute the weight evenly across both shoulders.”
The style of bag is also important, said Hall.
“Bags with that have a rigid internal frame, that is designed to fit snugly against the back, are recommended.”
Hall also suggested teachers find ways to reduce homework and adopt “tech-smart” classes