Those burdensome book-bags Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
January 22, 2002

ARE Guyanese schoolchildren studying more subjects on a daily basis or is it that they are required to have several texts for each subject covered during a school day? These are the questions that the ordinary citizen would mull silently as he or she observes pupils going to or coming from school. In recent years, the ordinary student seems to be fetching heavier haversacks and book-bags each and every day. The package of the textbooks has become so unwieldy that last August merchants were advertising for sale haversacks on trolleys, which enable schoolchildren to pull their small mountains of study tomes along the ground as they walk. But while this device relieves the student from fetching the crushing weight of books on his or her shoulders, it throws no light on the question of why so many books are required each school day.

The ‘Sunday Chronicle’ of January 20, 2002 published a story under the headline, “Education Minister concerned about ‘overladen’ haversacks”, and it quotes Dr Henry Jeffrey as saying that the Ministry has received a number of complaints from parents and guardians that their children, especially those in Primary Three and Primary Four, as being burdened with haversacks that contain a variety of texts that are requested by the school. According to the report, Dr Jeffrey said that while the Ministry is supportive of the use of relevant and appropriate supplementary material, the present situation cannot be encouraged. He emphasised the need for schools to observe timetables and to ensure that they are clearly communicated to pupils and their parents. If this is done, he reasoned, the student would only carry the relevant materials on a particular day. “It is not the number of books carried by pupils that matters, but he structured and systematic use of the material,” the Minister is quoted as saying.

Dr Jeffrey offered a caveat to those teachers, who he explained, are sometimes swayed by attractive titles of books and quickly add them to booklists. He cautioned that there should be proper evaluation of new textbooks for accurate and updated content.

We are somewhat re-assured by Minister Jeffrey’s reasoning, aw well as his words of advice to teachers. We also appreciate the fact that caring and conscientious teachers do explore and recommend various textbooks for their charges. Reading widely is one of best habits a young student could cultivate since there is no limit to the knowledge and ideas a youthful mind could readily absorb. In fact, this column has advocated time and again that children must be encouraged to read since this practice is the best possible strategy to combat the most negative influences of addictive television-watching. However, burdening children daily with a pile of textbooks has to be counterproductive, since, even if students were to be instructed from each of the several tomes they fetch every day, it is doubtful that in approximately five class hours they would have enough time to glean any in-depth or worthwhile knowledge from that range of texts.

Perhaps the present exigencies of the education system have made planning for classes such a futile exercise, that harried head-teachers and senior teachers insist that the children come prepared to be taught any subject depending on which teacher is available. It is possible that in the public earning sector there are other serious discrepancies and anomalies of which outsiders would have no knowledge and therefore cannot appreciate the constraints under which educators function. Yet, we would encourage the nation’s teachers to find some creative, if short-term solution, to relieve their charges of those burdens of books.