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Wong Boon Loong (left) and Michelle Lee (right) choosing schoolbags for their children Woo Celine, 11, (third from left) and Woo Yanjo, (second from right).
Children carrying heavy backpacks to school. Pix by Munira Abdul.

LUGGING thick textbooks to school has been an issue for years but little has been done to counter the problem.

Recalling her schooldays, Arni Abdul Razak said she carried 6kg to 8kg worth of books when her own weight was merely 30kg.

“I had no choice but to bring all the textbooks, workbooks and exercise books to school because there were no lockers at the primary school.

“My back hurt from carrying the heavy load to school every day. At first, the pain wasn’t serious. My mother would just massage my shoulders to ease the pain.

“And the pain persisted until Year Six when my parents noticed my hunch. They blamed it on the carrying of the heavy load of books. Little did they know that it was more than just an effect on my shoulder,” said Arni.

When she was in Form One, Arni was diagnosed with scoliosis — a deformity in the spine curvature that particularly affects teenagers. She had to go for an operation when she was 16 years old.

Thankfully, the distortion of her spinal curve is now under control, after her last operation in her 20s. But to ensure the condition does not worsen, Arni goes for regular check-ups.

“Lifestyle plays an important part in healthy living. You should not carry heavy bags at a young age. Choosing the right bag is important. It pays to invest in a good bag for your children,” she added.

In Malaysia, most schoolchildren carry heavy bags to and from school, and often up and down two or more flights of stairs if the classroom is on the upper floors.

A comparison between A level and International Baccalaureate.

Sabariah Mohamed Salleh, 35, a mother of two school-going children, said she and her husband are concerned about their offspring carrying heavy bags to classes.

“Yes, the bags are quite heavy. But it is because the children are not sure of the books to pack on a certain day and decide to bring them all. Some parents diligently pack their children’s school bags but I only did so in the first few months of primary school.

“After that, I let my nine-year-old, Ahmad Dani, pack his school bag on his own. I label the books with stickers to indicate those required on a specific day,” said Sabariah.

Her other son, Ahmad Andi Amir Fariz, is starting Year One next year.

“My husband and I look at the design, colour and size of the school bag. We also look at the quality of the material and zipper. Andi is small-built so we chose a bag that fitted his size.

“We prefer knapsacks because some schoolchildren drag their wheeled bags through mud puddles and dirty them. I also don’t like the designs on those bags.”

Sabariah added the school and teacher should ensure that pupils do not carry heavy loads every day.

“Teachers can indicate the books to bring on a specific day. For instance, for the English subject, there are the textbook, activity book, supplementary workbook and exercise book. Which book should pupils bring on a certain day?

“If there are lockers, they can keep their books in school and only bring them back when there is homework.

“Parents should also check the bags to make sure their children bring the right books on the right day. Sometimes the bags may be filled with junk such as pieces of paper, rubber bands and ice cream sticks.”

Emma Mohamad.

Emma Mohamad, 35, mother of a child aged 9, said choosing the right school bag is of the utmost important.

“Ideally, it must have lots of pockets and zipped compartments to store and locate different things. I also look for bags with side pockets that are large enough to fit a water bottle.

“It is great if the bag is different in design and colour from other children’s as well. There is no need to spend on branded bags but I will consider investing in a good bag.

“While pupils have to pull the weight of trolley bags as opposed to carrying them on their backs, they still have to carry them when they climb the stairs,” said Emma.

“If the Parent-Teacher Association can raise money for lockers, then the problem of heavy school bags can be solved.”

Syahidan Ramli.

Both Syahidan Ramli, 42, and his wife, Julienita Hanum Mohamed Albaki, 37, are feeling anxious as their son Muhammad Eimran Qilfi is entering Year One next year.

“We researched into getting the right school bag. We considered a lot of things such as his weight and size, the school environment and the number of books.

“Since we don’t like trolley bags, we got Eimran a backpack with sponge padding to protect his shoulders and back. We made sure the bag is comfortable and fits well.

“I advised Eimran to always wear both straps on his shoulders. And if the backpack is too heavy, to carry it with both his hands,” said Syahidan.

He added his son’s school has provided timetables for the pupils. “Looking at the book list, I am preparing for the worst. I hope the school will cooperate with parents on the best ways to accommodate the safety and well-being of the children. Installing lockers is one example.”

Sabrina Alias, 40, said her 7-year-old son’s school has a rule of instant detention or punishment if pupils forget to bring books. “He tends to bring most of his books with him to school every day to circumvent the rule.”

She has bought him a trolley bag for Year Two next year as he complained of shoulder pain when he carried a backpack.

“On a typical school day, my son’s backpack was stuffed with textbooks, workbooks, a water bottle and stationery. Parents should invest in the right school bag for their children,” said Sabrina.

Nur Alia Alyshia Mohd Ridzwan, 16, who has had a spine problem since she was 12, carries a light, comfortable knapsack which comes with spinal protection.

“In addition to textbooks, I bring along a water bottle, art materials and extra exercise books in my bag. I pack my sports attire in another bag,” said Nur Alia Alyshia.

“The school should provide lockers. They can be used to keep heavy textbooks and books which are required two days in a row.

“The school should also adopt e-learning as it is a convenient and fun way to study,” she added.

Ron Ong.

Ron Ong, chief operating officer of Swan which makes school bags, said it is essential for a student to get a good bag to carry all his needs in order to easily get around the school.

“You need to consider a lot of things when selecting a school bag. A strong and sturdy bag is essential to last at least a year.

“It must be easy to carry around throughout the day. Wheeled bags help a small child to carry a heavy load. A duffle bag on wheels is the perfect solution for a student who has to carry his books from one class to the next,” said Ong.

“Some causes of back pain in young people include poor posture, inappropriate forms of exercise and heavy school bags.

“Parents need to teach their children to carry school bags properly,” he added.

Ideally a school bag should weigh less than 10 per cent of the child’s body weight. For instance, a child who weighs 40kg should carry 2kg or 3kg, or 4kg at the most.

“There are so many different styles of school bags available that it can become difficult to choose the right one. The best style for those in primary school is an ergonomic backpack.”

Swan has various school bags which include kindergarten, primary, secondary and tertiary school bags as well as shoulder and trolley bags.

Swan backcare bags — Spacelite, Airlite and Ultralite trolley bags — are among the most popular. The Airlite range with ergonomic design supports the backbone and has spinal muscle back support padding and lightweight features. The spinal muscle back support padding design supports the lower back and pushes the shoulders and upper back to maintain an upright body position. The bags also evenly distribute weight on both shoulders.

“This design can help prevent an early onset of chronic back pain and strain. The extra waist straps ensure the bag is secured on a child’s back when he runs around.

“And the special bubbled-shaped sponge padding on the back of the bag helps to massage tired muscles.

“I recommended a trolley bag that is easy for Year One pupils to manoeuvre because their classrooms are usually on the ground floor,” he added.

Maureen Crystal Dellow.

SK Taman Maluri teacher Maureen Crystal Dellow said her school does not have lockers. “Even if pupils follow the daily timetable, there are still a lot of books to carry. However, they don’t have many revision books to bring to school as teachers provide them with worksheets.

“A typical weekday routine consists of 11 to 12 periods a day and pupils may have to bring books for seven to eight subjects.

“They also carry exercise books, packed lunches, water bottles, pencil cases, colour pencils and their physical education clothes on certain days,” said Dellow.

“If it is not possible to install lockers, the alternative is to get bags with wheels. This, however, does not help if the pupils’ classes are not on the ground floor and they have to carry their heavy bags with wheels up to their respective classes.

“If parents can afford it, it is much better to get a better quality school bag to protect the child’s spine.”

Dellow said the school administration and Parent-Teacher Association could raise funds for lockers in schools.

Another primary school teacher Adzlinda Adnan, 34, said parents should help pupils, especially those in Years One, Two and Three, to pack their school bags according to the timetable.

“I check their schoolbags to see if they are heavy. And I will also tell parents to inspect their children’s bags,” said Adzlinda.

The June 2015 cohort at Sunway College A levels who were Top in the World and Malaysia for the second consecutive time.

Columbia Asia Hospital Petaling Jaya orthopaedic and spine surgeon Dr Ahmad Norshahrid Zahari said it is ideal to have school bags that allow balanced weight distribution on both shoulders and have soft cushion. He added that the Austrian Ministry of Education does not allow schoolbags which weigh more than 10 per cent of a child’s weight.

“Studies have shown the incidents of neck and shoulder pain are 43.6 per cent and back pain, 46.5 per cent.

“Many factors contribute to these problems including time spent at the computer and watching television, sports activities, bad posture and heavy school bags.” said Dr Ahmad Norshahrid.

In February 2014, the Malaysian Education Ministry introduced the digital textbook that can be accessed online as an alternative to the print version. The digital textbook, with pages of text and graphics which can be flipped, was implemented at all schools in stages beginning last year.

The digitalisation of school textbooks is being done in three phases as stipulated in the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025.

In the second phase (2016-2020), the ministry plans to produce interactive textbooks for select subjects, which will contain elements of text, graphics, audio visual and animation.

The third phase (2021-2025) will see the publication of digital textbooks for all subjects, including for students with special needs.

The then Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, who is now Higher Education Minister, had said schoolchildren will be allowed to bring their electronic devices, such as tablet and iPad, to access the digital textbook at school.

But how this will translate into less textbooks in schools, only time will tell.

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