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Open letter to the Ministry of Education

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Fri Oct 25, 2013

Editor: I went through the education system of St Vincent and the Grenadines and began my primary education at a public school in Kingstown in the mid 1980’s. I now have a child of my own enrolled in the same school and he is currently in Grade 4. I am very much involved in his schooling and it really pains and often infuriates me when I see my child struggling to gather, grip and then swing his school bag onto his back, which on most days weighs TWENTY-TWO pounds (22lbs).{{more}}
 
This is criminal! Our children are not like the ant that can carry three times its body weight. Why are two texts, two exercise books and one notebook required for ONE subject at the primary level? In my research, I discovered that a child like my son, 4ft 4inches tall and weighing 53lbs, should carry a backpack that weighs no more than 15 per cent of his bodyweight; this means his backpack should weigh 8 lbs or less, but he is forced to carry almost three times this amount, a whopping 40 per cent of his total body weight. The weight increases, of course, on days when he has to carry his laptop and a lunch bag. This is quite an abuse put on by the Ministry of Education and its administrators.

Fortunately for us, I am a motorist, so he does not have to stand up awaiting public commute and make the long walk from the bus terminal all the way to school like hundreds of our children, while carrying twenty pounds. But he does have to make it to my office during lunch and at the end of the day. But how many of us have this “luxury”? How many can afford vehicles, or are fortunate enough to work within walking distance of our children’s school?

According to an article sited on Livestrong.com, the resulting effects of our children toting these weights around five days a week for months on end are:

  • Spine compression
  •  Shoulder and neck injury
  •  Muscle strain
  • Chronic back and neck pain

Statistics show that half of all children will suffer back pain by the tender age of 14, and many will go on to develop back related health problems in their adult lives. Why should our children have their health compromised and face irreversible back deformities for the sake of education? Learning should be fun, not painful.

My Failed Strategies:

1. The rolling bag on wheels created a hazard going up and down staircases and so does pulling it on uneven terrain.

2. I kept the books for the afternoon session until he got to my office at lunch, at which point I take the morning session books so his afternoon load is lighter, yet still significantly more than what he should safely carry. This does not help the load for the morning session, being that morning has up to five periods, whereas afternoons has three.

3. Co-ordinating my daily 15 minute break at work with the dismissal of school, that I may carry the load that he may have relief.

Suggestions:

1. The Ministry needs to rethink a lot of things as it relates to the booklist, size and weight of the books, even liaising with the publishers to cohesively reduce the weight of the books.

2. It is probably impractical to introduce a locker system, due to the lack of space; so what about desks with storage which can be locked and secured.

3. Teachers can co-ordinate homework so that all homework does not become due on the same day.

4. Implement strategies to reduce the number of books per day with effective time tabling and more double periods; also one notebook could be split for more than one subject.

I know I have spoken on behalf of hundreds of parents and students alike and trust that I have reached the eyes of the relevant authorities and something can be done to effectively alter this grave situation for our children. The education revolution boasts “No Child Left Behind,” not “Every Child With A Crooked Spine.”

Lisa James, Parent

Editor’s Suggestion: What about eliminating hard copy text books altogether by providing each child with a tablet/laptop with all the texts installed as e-books?

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