Indian Government Calls for Ban on Homework to Prevent Spinal Injuries

The Indian government has answered the dreams of countless children across the world by telling schools to stop giving young students homework.

The move is motivated by health concerns after studies showed young children were set to suffer chronic back pain, hunched backs and other spinal problems as a result of carrying heavy school bags. According to one study by the Associated Chambers and Industry of India, which involved more than 2,500 children and 1,000 parents spread across India's major cities, over two-thirds of children aged between 7 and 13 are at risk (via Reuters).

The study also found that almost 90% of pre-teen children—whose spines are soft and still developing—were carrying more than 45% of their own body weight on their backs. The problem is made more pronounced in India by the long distances that many children must cover to reach school.

The proposed ban on homework would only apply to students in Year 1 and 2 (ages 5 to 7), while the government has also issued weight guidelines for school bags, reflecting different age-brackets.

A similar policy is already in place in the state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located. In 2017, following a successful campaign by local activists, a statewide school bag policy set the maximum weight for schoolbags at 10% of the child's weight. Random monthly checks are conducted by the education department to ensure that the rule is followed.

One mother, whose two children attend a private school in Mumbai, told Reuters that unreliable time-tabling was to blame for the heavy loads children carry.

"If [schools] plan, they can repeat the subjects taught and thus reduce the load. My kids find it difficult to carry so many books," she said.

Yet schools in Maharashtra also suggest that parents that are to blame. "Students don't follow the timetable," one principal told the Hindustan Times in 2017. "If both parents are working, the students carry two to three tiffin-boxes [lunchboxes] to school every day to eat before going for tuition."

Struggling to keep students' bags light enough, schools have asked parents to not give their children any items that might add to the weight of the bags, according to the Hindustan Times. It is also hoped that an increased use of white boards and projectors will help to lighten the load—a strategy that other states can replicate.

Since the government introduced landmark legislation in 2009, known as the Right to Free Education Act, almost 100% of children in India—which has a total population of 1.21 billion people—start primary school.

But the sudden rush to bring so many children into education, with the concomitant need for new schools and teachers, has caused new problems, with poor organization, poor equipment and low education standards.

A 2014 World Bank study found that literacy levels in Indian schools were still very low, with a third of Year 3 students unable to read in their native language, and about half of Year 5 students struggling with a Year 2 text.