|25 August, 2019

Why are kids' school bags heavy in the digital era, parents in UAE ask

The students can access books online, but they also use physical textbooks

Image used for illustrative purpose, Excited pupils rushing down school corridor.

Image used for illustrative purpose, Excited pupils rushing down school corridor.

Getty Images/Westend61

UAE parents have expressed frustration over seeing their children carry heavy bags to school when some other academic institutions have long switched to e-learning platforms that don't require physical textbooks.

Parents and schools are blaming the slow shift from traditional learning to digital due to multiple reasons, including lack of investment in schools to support e-learning tools; dearth of teacher training; and some curriculums requiring textbook learning and handwritten notes.

A parent in Dubai, Dinesh Kewalramani, complained to the management of his daughter's school after seeing her carry a heavy bag filled with textbooks every day.

"She used to carry a heavy load last year, and because I am a parent council member, we took it up with the leadership team and they (introduced) lockers in school. Now every student has a locker and they keep their books there," he said. "But I am still wondering why people have to buy books when everything is online. The online services can be provided to these students. Parents will be saving money in the long run - it's economical."

He added that some curriculums like the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) give students no choice but to use physical textbooks, with students required to take handwritten notes.

Another parent, Farha Sharif, said: "My 11-year-old daughter carries nearly four to five heavy textbooks in her bag. There are lockers at her school, but the kids want to bring the books home so they can study and do their homework. She often complains about her shoulders, neck and back hurting. Schools really need to think about digital, it can't go on like this."

Why the digital shift has been slow

Anita Singh, vice-principal of Shining Star School in Abu Dhabi, said their students are required to bring textbooks to school. She insisted that "some parents are not comfortable" with the shift to digital because they aren't "well-versed" with it and will be unable to help their children with homework.

"I don't think some parents will be able to support their children if they're using technology. Also, parents feel that if their kids are using technology in school, they might misuse it and waste their time, instead of learning," Singh said. "We have lockers in the school and it is an option for the students to leave their books there. For the parents whose children are in earlier grades, they seem to be more tech-savvy and we are planning to implement e-books from their level and run a trial service of 'bring your own device' for the senior grades."

Dr Ashok Kumar, principal of the Indian High School in Dubai, said they are planning on a "full integration" of e-learning platforms within a few years.

"The students can access books online, but they also use physical textbooks. In the long run, we are planning to get rid of those books and use only digital ones," he said. "It's the digital era and it'll take another three to four years until schools move to the era."

Balancing digital and traditional

Brendon Fulton, principal of the Dubai British School, said his school already has a 'bring your own device' policy in their secondary school. However, they have found a balance between using traditional books and e-learning platforms.

The school allows the students to decide what they're comfortable with using - traditional books or electronic ones.

"We have a good mix of both - a digital device as part of the curriculum and traditional resources. There are still a lot students who feel safe with normal textbooks. We find digital resources compliment traditional textbook. The digital provides more flavour for research," he said. "One of the reasons behind why some schools haven't shifted is because of lack of training of staff. Many traditional teachers feel insecure about digital resources and they feel safe teaching from traditional platforms. More progressive schools are open to allowing students to explore from digital platforms and traditional. Also, some schools may not have a network strong enough to support those devices and a lack of investment."

What makes school bags so heavy?

We have all seen the little ones' shoulders droop with the burden of their school bags. What makes their bags so heavy?

>Up to 5 textbooks

>5 notebooks

>Stationery items

>Lunch box

>Sports equipment

>PE uniforms

Big price to pay

It's not just about the actual weight, parents pay a heavy price to stuff those school bags

>Dh2,000: Textbooks

>Dh50-100: Notebooks

>Dh100-200: Stationery items

>Dh200: PE uniforms

>Dh20-50: Lunch box

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