The warnings that the holiday season is winding down and that return-to-school preparations are about to start are to be found in the dictionaries , atlases and English grammars that are appearing in the supermarkets (many at wonderfully low prices) and also in the colourful rucksacks that are displaying themselves in the local cartolerie or stationery shops.
The mini-rucksacks are a far cry from what I used to carry my books to school in, which was either a duffel bag or a sports kit bag. (Anyway, all I brought to school were my writing implements and my homework – most of the books I used were stuffed in my classroom desk). They are also a far cry from what Italian kids used to bring their heavy load of books to school, namely plain-brown shoulder satchels. In the following pics taken at a local shop there are no marks for guessing which mini-rucksacks are destined for girls and which for boys, and, more specifically, which for tomboys, princesses, nerds or street-wise kids. (Incidentally few of them have a price tag of less than euro 60).
I hesitate to think who actually makes these items – could it be a child in an oriental factory who has never properly been to school and who is sweating it out in an unsafe building in cramped conditions for over twelve hours a day on peanut wages to help avoid starvation in his/her family?
Italian children must bring a truly heavy load to school. All books have to be bought by the parents in the first place (no such things as schools-issued texts) and there are no lockers at school in which to store them. I once weighed the bag of books a child had to bring to school and found it weighed more than ten kilos. No wonder back problems among children (and staff) are rife!
In one school I taught there were some children who brought their texts to school in a small suitcase on wheels just as if they were checking in to an airport terminal. I thought this was a sensible way of avoiding back problems but most children think this system is hardly cred and will avoid it as far as possible. Perhaps mini-rucksack companies could start designing street-cred suitcases as well – that clearly could find a market…
Actually, all this transportation of pulped wood could change quite rapidly in the near future through the use of tablets. For instance, in the school mentioned above a gas company sponsored the purchase of tablets among staff and children alike, in line with the Italian government education department’s mission to introduce greater digitalization in both teaching and administration in schools.
The proposal to introduce tablets throughout the learning environment met with strong opposition from both staff and parents and, eventually, was restricted to the first year only in the scuola media (= first year secondary school).
The fact is, however, that tablets can help avoid back problems and that learning texts on them can be easily updated without having to buy new books and, therefore, can contribute to saving the world’s trees. Furthermore, tablets can be used to gather statistical information helpful in analysing a student’s profile besides being used for communicating important school messages.
Unfortunately, in telefonino-mad but digitally-highly-unequal Italy, there are many parents who are computer-illiterate and do not have Wi-Fi, modems and the rest of the caboodle in their homes. It would be sad if these parents felt excluded from the traditional task of helping their children with homework just because they have been more used to turning pages in a book and using a pencil rather than selecting menu options and flicking through a touch screen.