Weight of school bags, toilets: does the school neglect the physical well-being of students?


Taking students’ bodies into account is too often neglected in French schools, as shown, among other things, by the state of school toilets, regularly questioned for decades, as well as the excessive weight of school bags in middle school. At the start of the 2023 school year, we were able to hear once again this double questioning, which is oh so recurring and significant.

The new Minister of National Education Gabriel Attal spoke out in favor of halving the weight of schoolbags at the beginning of September: “I want to move forward on this subject during this year with the representatives of teachers, management staff, local authorities,” he declared on M6.

Digital technology to lighten schoolbags?

The minister’s comments on the eve of the start of the school year are reminiscent of the circular of January 11, 2008 published under the ministry of Xavier Darcos:
“The average weight of a schoolbag is still 8.5 kilos, which corresponds to around 20% of the child’s weight. This is why I ask you to act and find concrete solutions without delay in order to divide, in the short term, the weight of the school bag by two. »

It was fifteen years ago. And a ministerial note of October 17, 1995 had already indicated that the weight of a student’s schoolbag should not exceed 10% of their weight…

At the start of the 2009 school year, the Ministry of National Education is experimenting in twelve academies with the use of textbooks via the college’s digital workspace (ENT). The circular of March 16, 2010 asks rectors to “accelerate the development of digital technology at school”. That of July 31, 2012 established a list of recommended school supplies with the aim of reducing the cost of going back to school and lightening the weight of the schoolbag. And it was recommended that all measures intended to reduce the weight of the schoolbag be put on the agenda of the health and citizenship education committee in each school establishment.

Ten years later, despite warnings from health personnel about the risks incurred by students’ bodies, the weight of accumulated disciplines with their specific requirements remains on the students’ backs. The Minister of National Education Gabriel Attal recommended “playing” on supplies, on textbooks, on digital technology, on lockers in establishments. In fact, “instructive” concern has so far prevailed almost unchallenged at the expense of well-being, as if real concern for the child’s body was a matter of “extra soul”.

The taboo of school toilets

Mutatis mutandis, the same applies to the sensitive, but essentially unchanged, issue of school toilets . A collective forum signed by elected officials, representatives of parents, businesses, associations and childhood specialists once again sounded the alert in Le Figaro of August 27, 2023 under the title “Hygiene and The safety of school toilets is one of the most essential rights of children . The signatories indicate that the problem is certainly not new, but that there is recent awareness of the urgency of the situation. Let us accept the omen:
“Our children are experiencing a situation that no adult would be willing to endure in a personal or professional environment. Hygiene and the use of toilets at school are as much a subject of public health as of education, security and space planning […] The situation calls for a collective, massive and urgent response to improve the good -to be of all the children of the Republic. »

In 2019, Essity, a player in hygiene and health, conducted a study with the IFOP among 500 children aged 6 to 11 years old . It appears that one in two students refrain from going to the toilet in school, even though the French Association of Urology recommends urinating at least every three hours at the risk of developing, among other pathologies, urinary infections. The Essity study highlights three explanatory factors for this continuing situation:

  • the fact that the issue of toilets at school remains a taboo subject;
  • lack of clear and shared responsibility for toilet hygiene and safety;
  • finally (and undoubtedly above all) the underestimation of the situation experienced by the children.

In 2006, after an investigation, the National Federation of Departmental Delegates of National Education wrote:
“What exists everywhere in terms of hygiene in all workplaces and in all public places is absent in many schools… What would be intolerable for adults is too often accepted for children. »

Already 20 years ago, in Le Parisien of November 18, 2003, Philippe Meirieu declared  :
“Our society exalts the body, but is incapable of recognizing its primordial functions […] There is only one place where hygiene and contempt for the intimate are so shocking: that is prison. »

Physical education, different from sports competition

We indeed exalt the body, but which one? We can clearly see him in full preparation for hosting the Olympic Games in Paris in less than a year. There is less talk of “physical education” of children’s bodies than of the exaltation of “sporting performances”.

As indicated on the website of the Ministry of National Education and Youth, the 30 minutes of daily physical activity program has been widespread since September 2022 in primary schools across the country. It is highlighted that supporting this transformative system constitutes one of the priorities of the roadmaps of the Ministry of Sports and the Olympic and Paralympic Games and also of the Ministry of National Education and Youth. “This measure is part of the construction of a sporting nation” it is said. And everything is said.

And what can we also say, in particular, about school medicine? It is almost generally agreed that it is fundamentally devastated. But who really cares? At school, everything seems to happen as if the students don’t really have a body, or very little.