Letter to headmaster about back breaking heavy school bags

One thing which has really troubled me since Fjord started Gr 4 last year, is the spine wrecking weight of his school bag.  Since they started moving from class to class children end up carrying every single school book around all day and the time table seldom allows even 1 book to stay home.  The school does allow a box shaped plastic caddy but Fjord has not wanted one as they are hard to manoeuvre.  It’s a year too late, but at last I sent a letter to the headmaster and am now waiting for his response, I hope that in requesting a meeting he will really look for a solution instead of brushing it off as he has previously.  The second part of the letter is about traffic jams outside the school.

I would love it if you comment below with your thoughts or suggestions.  Maybe you have an idea that I can bring up when I meet with him.

Dear Mr x

I would like to arrange a meeting with you to discuss the following but thought it best to first put my thoughts in writing for your consideration prior to us meeting, in order for you to have some time to weigh up the feasibility of what I suggest.
I feel comfortable that you will take some form of action as I know that you keep up to date with current issues facing pupils and schools not only at our school but at other schools.   The two issues which concern me currently (and have done for some time) are the lasting spinal damage which the school bags almost certainly  cause to children from grades 4 – 7, and the traffic problems outside the school.
As a headmaster who cares about the well being of his learners I know that you would be happy to take a path to wellness with regard to the crippling bags.  The plastic cadies are not a rounded complete solution as they are cumbersome, expensive, difficult to manage on stairs and break relatively easily.  After extensive dwelling on the matter I would like to put forward the following for your consideration.
  • Last year you mentioned that teachers have been asked to assist by keeping books in class which are not needed at home in the evening.  Sadly to the best of my knowledge this request from you has been disregarded by staff.  The only teacher who currently assists the children with this is the Gr 5 Afr teacher who hands out books at the beginning of class and takes them back at the end of her lessons, unless there is work which needs to come home.  If all teachers did this as a matter of enforced routine no further action would need to be taken.
  • I spoke to a parent at a Pretoria school who sent me the following message, it would be great if our school could do the same.  “Hi- about the heavy school bags- our school this year implemented a suggestion we made- we suggested buying one extra set of handbooks that will be kept in the teachers class- the kids then keep theirs at home. It takes a lot of weight out of that bag. We offered to help buy but the school actually had enough handbook funds to do this.”
  • Allow the children to purchase any blue or black bag on wheels, giving parents more options to choose from within the boundaries of what they can afford.  Bags in the region of R1000 are out of the reach of many families struggling to make ends meet.
  • Lockers could be installed with security cameras to monitor if they are vandalized.

My final suggestion may be the most radical but it is one which I believe would reap benefits beyond the issue of school bags.  World wide schools and parents are challenging what I consider to be very dated ideas with regard to homework.  Without homework there would be no extra books coming home.  Obviously I am referring to routine homework and not reading and studies for tests and exams which is necessary and also important as a life skill.  Routine homework for the sake of homework puts enormous pressure on families, not only do the children have minimal time for exercise and creative activities but parents return from a day at work and then have to help children or check homework when they could be enjoying relaxed, quality time with their children.  Fun is a word often scoffed at but in times when stress and pressure are the order of every day, the psychological value is immeasurable.  Homework generates very negative mindsets and emotions.  My eldest daughter teaches at Bryanston Primary and this year they have implemented drastically reduced homework.  You may find it interesting to chat to their headmaster about how they have gone about taking this brave and progressive step.


I have just exchanged messages with Marius De Vos, Councillor for Ward 32.  He has replied with the following “I will ask the commander to send cops over. What time of the day”.  I told him that 13h50 is the biggest problem time.  Sadly humans do not change behaviour easily and even if Metro police do come to the school, parents will most likely revert to unlawful practices as soon as the police are not there.  I would like you therefore to consider the following.
  • Open the big gate when learners are leaving school, the line for the turnstile is insanely long.  The faster the waiting cars can leave the less traffic builds up.  I understand that using the turnstile was motivated by security concerns but regularly I see children stuck outside the school because they have gone through the turnstile too soon and cannot then get back in.  With a teacher posted at the gate I very much doubt that any person with ill intent would go into the school.  There are also enough parents who would step in if a child were being forcefully removed.
  • Install a second turnstile.
  • Stagger the leaving time for each grade for example grade 3 13h40, Gr 4 13h45, Gr 5 13h50, and so on.  Logistically there will always be problems when a few hundred children are departing at exactly the same time.
  • Extend the 10 min window for parents to get to the school before the gate closes.  A bottleneck is inevitable when all parents have to be in the same place for no longer than 10 mins.
I thank you for taking the time to read this rather long letter and look forward to your considered response.  Please revert to me with a date and time which would suit you for a meeting.
Kind Regards

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  1. I’m glad you put our suggestion forward – it makes a huge difference to the weight! A in grade 6 now has a bag that is so much lighter than even in grade 4. Also die Caddie cases are the worst thing possible for backs as they are even worse carrying up a stair.

  2. E Learning I would say is the solution. I was chatting to someone today who is an E Learning Consultant and apparently our local high school was one of the first schools to implement their system and the facts and figures were quite astonishing with regards to the amount of paper this system has eliminated from the school besides all the other benefits. While she was talking I kept thinking of this post of yours and the solutions you were trying to come up with.
    If it can be implemented in this particular high schoo and be cost effective, it definitely would work in others.
    The tough part is to convince the “older” generation that tablets are the way to go. My son went to a private school and they just would not embrace technology and accept that digital is the way to go.

    • Cliff and I also discussed tablets as an option the problem is that in Primary school we decided that children are probably not responsible enough and they could get lost or broken. It also worried us that if the tablet was also loaded with games, children would not resist the temptation. I believe that we are close to a time when technology will take over and in many ways it will be fantastic.

      • When I see her again I will ask if it is only for high school children and how they monitor non curriculum downloads. Personally, I believe high school children can be as irresponsible as primary school children and more likely to play games all day. I am sure it is well monitored, because it would definitely be abused by high school children.

  3. Good for you for writing it all down and I hope you get somewhere. I do remember heavy school bags as a child but we needed those textbooks to work from at home, even though we did have lockers as well. Those days we did not have the wheel bags which I think would help. I remember walking from the bus stop and that would have helped!

  4. Good day. I have been thinking and rethinking my ideas about the heavy bag issue. I really believe that I have a feasible and real South African solution. But it would involve the whole education system changing. Because I understand that in order for a syllabus to be completed in time, homework aids some subjects in helping teacher’s keep to their limited time. I’ve researched about tablets being used and where it has failed. I’ve read up how some schools have overcome their standard of education in low income area’s. I’ve considered the tiny budget that government schools receive to be able to incorporate locker’s or locks on desks. I’ve studied the crime statistics, the overloaded classrooms, the lack of respect of pupils. And I believe that in today’s socioeconomic state in south Africa, that we need to incorporate a new way of teaching and learning.
    A) Longer hours at school depending on grades, to do homework at school. Con’s are there are no canteens to cater for hungry children.
    B) Instead of 12 school years, add another year so that the entire curriculum can be achieved, no homework (only reading, spelling and arithmetic, not mathematics). And school fees are dropped to a basic fee all over.
    C) if no locker’s can be provided, then all text books stay at school, only 1 72page soft cover books per lesson, with fewer lesson’s per day. And make Friday’s a full school day. And no homework.
    Sorry its long, but its a much shorter version of what I’ve written out.
    I’d like to join up with like minded parents so that we can force the education department to rethink how bad it is for our children to be expected to be mules instead of being enthusiastic about learning. Heavy bags are a burden and have a physical and psychological impact on our children.
    Kind regards
    Rebecca Csabai

    • You have some very interesting ideas and have obviously put a lot of thought into this, I do wish that the education department would look at making changes to help our children

      • Since you wrote the letter in February, have you had a response or outcomes from the school?

        • Sadly depite sending the letter and holding a meeting with the principal no steps have been taken to tackle the problem. I eventually bought a travel trolley from a shop in La Lucia Mall, this helps my son but not the rest of the kids.

          • I’m sorry to hear that. If an updated petition were to be made to force government to make it illegal for schools to overload students with anything over 10% of an average learner’s weight, do you think we’d get enough people to sign it? It could be a start to forcing the government to restructure the curriculum to minimise homework.

          • I think that would be a good idea, these days with online petitions they can be shared more easily. If you set one up please let me know and I will share

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