Tuesday 16 January 2018

A third of children cannot walk to school 'because of the weight of their schoolbags'

Some 31pc said their children couldn't walk to school because of the weight of their bags.
Some 31pc said their children couldn't walk to school because of the weight of their bags.
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Almost one in three parents of primary aged pupils said their children could not walk to school because of the weight of their schoolbag, an Oireachtas committee heard today.

The survey, which gathered more than 3,000 responses in four days last week, was conducted by the National Parents’ Council Primary (NPC-Primary)  in preparation for today’s hearing at the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs.

The committee is concerned about the implications for childrens' back health as a result of carrying heavy loads to and from school.

NPC-Primary chief executive Áine Lynch said their survey showed that nearly 70pc of parents had a significant concern about the weight of the bag, including 38pc who were extremely concerned. Some 31pc said their children couldn't walk to school because of the weight of their bags.

Ms Lynch said the issue at primary level was whether there was an over-reliance on textbooks in teaching and said the curriculum implemented in 1999 suggested that fewer were needed for children at these ages.

She said a number of reports had identified this as an issue, which, "should be further explored rather than accepting the necessity of text books and then continually trying to find ways of dealing with cost and weight issues".

Ms Lynch added:  "We need to look at what teaching and learning is looking like in the classroom, and what do we want it to look like.”

Committee chair, Fine Gael TD Jim Daily, said that what prompted him to look at this issue was developments in Estonia, which was now looking at introducing legislation in this area.

Mr Daly noted that there were Department of Education circulars on the  issue, but expressed concern that these were advisory. Another Fine Gael TD, Lisa Chambers supported the idea of legislation.

Dr Sara Dockrell of Trinity College Dublin, who has carried out research in this area, felt  there was no need for "heavy-handed" legislation. She  said people responded much better to a health promotion approach, when they understood what they needed to do.

She agreed with Ms Chambers that there was research showing that the weight of a bag should be no more than 10pc of a child’s weight, but there was the same amount of research showing that this need not be the case.

"It is a difficult one to call" she said, adding: "It is not to say that we should expect children to carry excessively heavy loads, but carrying weight on their back is not necessarily a problem."

Dr Dockrell said that people argued that a heavy schoolbag caused children to bend forward, “but we all bend forward when we sit”.

Paul Beddy, a director of  the National Parents Council –Post Primary (NPC Post Primary) said it there was a need for all the stakeholders involved, including publishers and the Department of Education, to discuss the issue.

He said it was 18 years since a working group report on  the matter  was published and “we could say we are not seeing much”  by way of progress. He thought that could be done against the backdrop of a threat of legislation.

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