The intelligence of anyone associated with school-level education would be insulted by a recent circular from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) spelling out measures to reduce the weight of the bags students are condemned to carry to school and back every day. That note assumes those who read it are blissfully ignorant of the report of the committee headed by the eminent Prof. Yashpal, and unaware of what triggered its appointment — a passionate plea in the Rajya Sabha from the noted writer RK Narayan. Then a nominated member, the author of the celebrated Malgudi Days had brought tears to the eyes of many in the House of Elders when he painted a passionate word-picture of schoolchildren struggling to manage their overloaded satchels.
Alas, despite the emotions evoked and the recommendations of several expert groups — not just Prof. Yashpal&’s — the grim reality persists. The latest circular from the CBSE inspires little confidence that it is not just one more bureaucratic exercise: for the record as it were. Another overload of the nonsense so favoured by those in authority: who care little about implementing what their predecessors had advocated. Over two decades have elapsed since Mr Narayan brought the issue centre-stage, the students’ sufferings have not eased.
In a bid to project itself as being scientifically astute the CBSE circular calculates the ideal weight of the satchel as ten per cent of the child&’s weight — so will schools decide the number of books each child is required to carry depending on the student&’s physique? No less silly is the call to do away with hard bound text-books, as if flimsy “paper-backs” will endure the rigours of an entire term. Why not suggest the use of files instead of exercise books (copybooks) as is the practice at the college/university level? The furniture in most schools needs to re-designed and must return to yesteryear when each child was allotted a desk with a compartment that could be locked, books not required for homework or preparation could be left in school — but that would add to the responsibility few schools would now be willing to accept. In some of the more affluent schools the students could be provided personal lockers. A revamp of the syllabus would also help: Indian school kids are required to study much more than their counterparts in other countries. Indeed, there is an unhealthy competition among the various examining boards to establish who conducts the most “advanced” courses — never mind if it retards the growth of the child. However, there is one plus-point to the CBSE circular: it is one of few recent educational endeavours which does not have a distinct saffron tint.