Impact of school desk on children’s health, learning

SCHOOLS are the second home for students and they spend between five to seven hours of their useful time in school. Students spend about 80% of their time in a sitting position in the classroom performing activities related to reading and writing. In school, students usually gain permanent habits of sitting on a chair.

Students sit in thousands of different positions upright, slouched, twisted, tilted, straddling their seats. The balance on the front of their chair or precariously teeter on the back, tempting gravity – and common sense. So, classroom chair is considered as an important element for students to improve comfort and concentration in study environment for longer periods of time, consequently increasing learning.

But, unfit tables and chairs can cause health problems for children. Improper school furniture may be accountable for poor sitting posture, improper posture, while using school furniture, is considered one of the factors that may increase the possibility of developing back pain.

Back pain among school children could influence their learning capabilities and substantially impact their adolescent and adulthood quality of life.

Current school tables and chairs provided by school authorities are one-size-fits-all. They do not match with consideration for students’ requirements although these are very different between age groups, stature, weight, genders and different cultures.

In Nigeria, studies conducted on existing seat fitness for students indicate that many school tables and chairs are mismatched and can cause musculoskeletal disorders and affect performance in classroom activities.

The instability resulting from mismatched school furniture forced the students to take improper postures while sitting, which consequently exaggerated the back-pain problem.

Researchers at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, for instance, considered the ergonomic suitability of school furniture for students in primary school children in Akure South Local Government. They explored the possibility of these school chairs and tables could cause low back pain.

Three hundred children (150 males and 150 females) aged 5 to 12 were selected across three different schools for the study. It was in the June 2020 edition of the Journal of Occupational Therapy Schools & Early Intervention.

Only 28 per cent of all males in the study have seat heights matching their heights and only 20 per cent for the females. With the seat depth, 48 per cent of the males have matches while 44 per cent of the females have matches. When the elbow height was compared with the seat-desk height, no match was found.

According to them, the evidence from the survey indicates high levels of postural overload in primary school children that is able to affect the performance of classroom activities such as writing, reading, and typing; causing pain, discomfort and consequently reducing attention.

Professor Segun Ogunlade, a Paediatrics Orthopaedics at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, stated that indeed there is an appropriate height for school tables and chairs for students to ensure that it does not lead to problems with their joints, and especially back and neck pain.

He added, “they are still resilient; they can adapt to poorly fit school furniture. Their ligament may still compensate but in the future, we never know the effect of some of these things as they grow to adulthood. If they will have back pains in years to come is still difficult to say for now.

“Occasionally, some children complain of backache because of bad sitting posture, but backache is not as common as in adults. It is known that sitting position affects the back if the chair and table are not appropriate.

“Aside from the size of their school bags, the suitability of school furniture for students is often not taken into cognizance because children are generally adaptable because their ligaments are supple.”

Musculoskeletal disorders in pupils are usually caused by unfit school furniture, heavy school bags, lack of exercise, and inappropriate position. These disorders have a negative effect on their emotional and physical activities.

The unfit sitting position in childhood not only causes fatigue but can lead to injury in adulthood. The good sitting position in childhood causes good sitting habits in adulthood while bad sitting habits acquired in childhood are very difficult to change in adolescence or adulthood.

Experts also stated that school furniture can affect the individual and social behaviours of students and cause students to dislike education and escape from schools. Unfit chairs caused fidget, restlessness, and constant movement in many school chairs in public schools.

School furniture providers should take into consideration the average Nigerian students’ size, while designing school furniture especially for males, and at intermediate schools, or provide schools with adjustable seats and desks.

While the use of wider seat depth than buttock length of the student may interfere with the use of the backrest of the seat and increase the pressure on students’ thighs, the use of narrow chairs may interfere with thigh support during sitting causing instability and discomfort.


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