A SCHOOL OF HUNCHBACKS
At Eshibinga School, heavy schoolbags loaded with books, water and lunch are just a menace. This is made worse with the long distances many pupils and students have travel to and fro school every morning and evening.
“Carrying too much weight in my schoolbag causes my shoulder, neck and back to pain” says Amina, a standard eight pupil. A recent study done in Africa shows that continuous carrying of these bags do induce long term back problems. The human skeleton is not completely formed until beyond the adolescent stage which most of my pupils are not. The situation is critical where most of my students carry heavy bags daily for fear of losing their books if left in school. Eshibinga school like many rural schools in Kenya has no lockers.
“Lockers! We only see them when we watch movies of schools in the USA.” Adds Baraka.
At high risk are adolescent girls experiencing rapid spurt growth and children suffering from temporary hunger and chronic malnutrition. Dr Matthew Dobbs, an orthopaedic surgeon at Washington University School of Medicine, says girls are at high risk because they often weigh less than boys but carry the same weight. Also in the category are children with micronutrient deficiencies and parasitic infections.
The feeling of the pupils in my class is that they should not carry more than 10-15 per cent of their body weight. Interestingly the average load of a schoolbag at Eshibinga is 20-30 per cent of the pupil’s body weight.
A survey carried for the purpose of writing this article at Eshibinga found some primary school pupils, especially in Standard Eight, carry more than 18kg. It was also found that Form One students at Eshibinga Secondary School carry relatively heavier bags compared to other students.
Carrying too much weight on one shoulder can cause immediate or long-term back problems among children. “Improper backpack use can cause injury to children with growing muscles and joints,” says Puckree. Pysiotherapists confirmed that injury may occur if a child gets used to harmful postures that include arching the back, leaning forward or using one strap. The In this case, physical change can occur before then by overloading the spine or one’s capacity to carry weights.
A School of hunchbacks
To avoid becoming a school of hunchbacks, parents and teachers have a responsibility to ensure that children carry minimal loads, either by providing lockers in schools, a move that would reduce the number of books a pupil carries every day. Taking into account the large number of children stunted and malnourished in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is needed to control the weight of schoolbags.
To add insult to injury, the Eshibinga School has no piped water. Students are commanded by the school administration to carry water to school for teachers.
Academically, physical pains caused by heavy bags can affect ability to pay attention in class. In the long run, this contributes to regular absenteeism and eventually to grade repetition or dropping out of school altogether.
When Jane and Sandra CEO of the Small Solutions Big Ideas program accepted to begin the xo and OLPC laptop project at Eshibinga school, I knew a solution the hunchbacks was on the way. Using technology and Laptops, information available in books can be made available to my pupils and students more easily and in large amounts. Think of how using a a data CD, A USB device or simply downloading info from the internet will save these children from carrying tons of books every year. Recently the Kenya Institute of Education announced it had secured funding from the UNICEF to put the entire primary and secondary Syllabus in to DATA CDs. All A teacher has to do, is to travel to our capital city of Nairobi, buy the CDs and bring them to class.
I believe in the OLPC program. This will help alleviate poverty in rural Kenya and reduce the divide between the 1st world and the so called 3rd world. I hope Jane, Sandra and others out there are reading this.
Peter Amunga ( The writer is a Graduate teacher, teaching IT in rural Western Kenya)