Weight of school bags way above internationally-accepted standards; Ministry takes action

Education Minister Anthony Garcia says a committee has been set-up to find ways of reducing the weight of school bags carried by primary and secondary school students.

The Minister made the announcement during a news conference in Port-of-Spain today, saying that Trinidad and Tobago is already way above internationally-accepted standards and that serious health issues have already arisen.

Garcia told the news conference that research has indicated that internationally, the weight of schoolbags at present are 16-20 percent of students' body weight, even though the acceptable standard is 10-15 percent.

However, he says when it comes to Trinidad and Tobago, research shows that schoolbags weigh between 30-40 percent of net body weight.

"This should not be accepted," Minister Garcia said.

"Apart from curriculum issues, it has some very serious effects on children's health. Several muscular and skeletal problems are associated with the weight of bookbags," the Minister added.

He said he was told by some professors he knew personally, that some of their own children experienced problems of curved spines as a result of the weight of schoolbags.

The Minister said the Education Ministry has now engaged stakeholders to find a solution, and that a committee has been set up with several divisions to report back within two months.

Among those represented are the Chief Education Officer, the Curriculum Division, the Textbook Management Unit, the Education Planning Division, the National Parents Teachers Association, the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers' Association, the Association of Principals of Public and Private Secondary Schools, the Association of Primary Schools Principals and the Publishers Association.

Minister Garcia told the news conference that when the committee submits its report, it will be taken to Cabinet where a decision will be made on the way forward.

"With respect to school bags, we are not leaving that situation...where we expose students to harmful consequences. We don't want the health of students to be compromised.," the Minister said.

He said there should not be an over-reliance on textbooks, and that the solution would likely be to the books required by students focus on the cirriculum and also to ensure that teachers do not rely only on textbooks, but more interface with students.

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