Primary school kids in Andhra may soon be able to skip school bags once a week

Come the beginning of the academic year on June 12 and there will likely be reason for primary school students in Andhra Pradesh to rejoice. According to reports, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has suggested that students be allowed to not carry bags one day of the week and not have regular classes on Saturday. And while the Education Department is yet to take a call on whether this will be a weekly or fortnightly affair, the pilot programme for the ‘no school bag day’ which is already there in 71 schools in the state is likely to be extended to all primary school students.

While school teachers seem to largely support the state government’s initiative, they warn that without a proper curriculum and funding for logistics to store the books at the school, it would be difficult to manage, and get parents to support the initiative.

T Malleshwar, a Zilla Parishad primary school headmaster from Guntur, told TNM, “We are ready to implement the programme but there are no special funds for the schools for this. It looks like we have to manage sports or games equipment from our existing funds, which won’t be adequate. There also needs to be a proper curriculum for Saturdays and funding for this program should also be alloted. The idea itself is good and will do wonders, but will need some funds to make it work.”

Ahmed Hussain, Headmaster of a government Zilla Parishad primary school in Guntur, where the ‘no school bag day’ policy has already been in place since August 2018 for primary school children, says that it has had a positive impact on the kids. Every Saturday, kids don’t have to carry bags and spend the day playing games and bonding with their peers.

“This has really helped the children. They are more eager to come to school and they stay engaged with the school activities. However, many parents are not able to grasp this. They think their children are just playing, not understanding that it is also part of learning,” argued Ahmed. He added there was a need to rethink at what the children do at school every Saturday, “We design games and organise fancy dress competitions, storytelling and other activities but these ideas at the moment come from the teachers. A curriculum is needed which can then be focused on innovation or research.”

The initiative at the Guntur school was part of a bigger pilot involving some other schools as well by former Education Minister Dr P Narayana, who was also previously a school teacher. It was implemented after the Education Department found that school bags of primary students in the state weighed anywhere between 6 and 12 kilograms.

This came up at a recent review meeting on Friday as well; and Chief Minister Jagan directed the Education Department to work on a way to make school bags less burdensome. He also called for a complete overhaul of the education sector in the state giving officials two years’ time for the same. The officials are hoping to create a facility for schools to store the books, which is a key demand of school management too.

“As far as the no school bag day is concerned, the idea is to find out a way to rid the children of heavy bags. For this, we may have to create a facility in the schools to store their books by increasing the storage space. We are thinking of ways to put it in practice,” said Aditya Nath Das, Principal Secretary, Department of School Education to The Hindu.

The Education Department’s next meeting with the Chief Minister likely to happen in the coming week.

Incidentally, a similar approach was taken by the YSRCP’s ally in Telangana, the TRS government, which implemented a policy to reduce school bag load by issuing guidelines for homework and assignments to all government, local body, aided and unaided private schools in the state from 2017-18 onwards.

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