INTRODUCTION: It's been several weeks since students across America returned to school. And already kids are beginning to experience health problems caused by heavy schoolbooks weighing down their backpacks. But this year, technology may be able to lift some of the weight, quite literally, off their backs. VOAs Kathie Scarrah explains.

NARRATOR: The amount of weight children carry in their backpacks to and from school and throughout the school day has increased not only in the U-S, but also around the world. The average weight of a loaded backpack is about 10 kilograms, but many kids carry loads up to 19 kilograms. The result has been a sharp increase in the number of back-related injuries to children under age 18. Medical experts say students carrying more than 10% of their body weight are highly susceptible to lower back pain and spinal injury. Beverly Schulz worries her granddaughter could face a lifetime of back misery.


"I think my granddaughter's backpack was 45 pounds, (20 kilograms) something like that with high school books." NARRATOR: Even younger children are carrying far too much weight in their backpacks. Fourteen-year-old Luke Eden. .

LUKE EDEN, STUDENT 093055-093058

"A friend of mine has a backpack that weighs about 30 pounds." (13 kilograms)

 NARRATOR: At the small secondary school Luke attends in the northwestern state of Washington, this school year students are learning not only about literary classics and physics, they're learning to carry lighter loads. Many of their textbooks have been stored on small USB flash drives -a technology designed to download and store entire textbooks, novels and learning tools. Science teacher Jonathan Briggs will eventually download his textbooks and class notes for students.


 "It's almost like a toy to them to play with it. So if they can have fun playing with science, that's all the better."

NARRATOR: Parents such as Jeanette Robbins who lives in Sacramento, California worry the new technology would put economically disadvantaged students even farther behind.


"Many children do not have computers in their homes yet. So when they're needing to go to computers, where are they supposed to go?"

NARRATOR: It's a question educators are still pondering. Only a handful of schools in the U-S are using the new technology. But as these new digital backpacks are introduced to more school districts around the country, students will welcome carrying their books around their necks instead of on their backs. Kathie Scarrah, VOA News.