IT is heartening to learn that the new Education Minister, Dr Maszlee Malik, is concerned about the heavy school bags carried by young school children.
Admittedly, it is a long-standing issue that has found no workable solutions thus far. I believe other parents join me in hoping that the task force formed to look into this issue will find a way to finally spare our children from the ordeal of lugging around heavy school bags.
Responding to the recent call by the ministry for public feedback, there are a number of things that I would like to bring to the attention of the members of the task force.
Firstly, they must consider studying the exam-orientedness of the education system. When the education system is too exam-oriented, it creates opportunities for various quarters on the periphery of the education sector to use the system to their advantage.
For instance, there are some unscrupulous book publishers whose main aim is money-making. Upon realising that schools are in a race to improve their students’ performance, some of these publishers produce quick-fix material that supposedly simplifies subject matters. Unfortunately, as the aim is moneymaking, such material often suffers qualitywise.
Some concerned parents have taken such publishers to task by sharing the glaring mistakes spotted in the material on social media, etc. I suggest that the ministry establish a mechanism to effectively tackle this issue. This would go a long way in ensuring unnecessary books aren’t carried in school bags.
Another solution to this issue is focusing more on the school assessment component that empowers teachers to select or, better still, create their own material. For that to happen, proper training has to be provided by the ministry and, more importantly, teachers have to be trusted to do things on their own.
I strongly believe that the ministry has its own quality assurance mechanism to ensure things are done to its required standards. It is at that stage that the ministry has to focus on issues brought up by teachers and negotiate solutions.
Our kids at the formative stage of the primary level must be made to see that grades are not everything. Focusing too much on grades will only give them the impression that nothing else matters.
My personal communications with school teachers indicate that they are made to focus more on this aspect. However, if we continue this focus, our kids may never appreciate the learning process which is significantly crucial for their future development.
If this trend continues, materials published by the unscrupulous publishers will remain, weighing down our children’s school bags unnecessarily.
Secondly, I have learnt from PIBG (parent-teacher association) meetings that some parents are concerned about the food sold in school canteens. I have heard them complaining that there are too many fried items in canteen food stalls. Due to the lack of healthy food options, such parents make their children take packed home-cooked food. Depending on the type of food, it adds more weight to their bags.
The ministry may have to consider looking into the food items sold in canteens. If it discovers that they are as healthy as required, efforts then have to be made to effectively and patiently educate the parents.
Lastly, the role of parents is of utmost importance. Parents should take the initiative to check their kids’ timetable daily and ensure that their kids carry only material that is needed on that particular day. Of course, the ministry or schools can’t do much about this, except remind parents when opportunities arise.
ALLA BAKSH MOHD AYUB KHAN,
Bukit Mertajam, Penang