KANBrief 2/11

Ergonomic classrooms promote both health and learning

In contrast to the underlying ergonomic conditions in office workplaces, those in classrooms are often neglected, either out of ignorance or for cost reasons. Yet the classroom is the daily workplace of teachers and pupils. The high demands placed upon both pupils and teachers can be met more effectively in classrooms that are ergonomic, and therefore more conducive to health and learning.

 “Sit still!” “Sit up!” “Stop rocking your chair!” Schoolchildren are repeatedly told to sit still in a disciplined fashion during lessons. Yet immobility is itself an obstacle to concentration and attention. In order to overcome this attitude, furniture should preferably be selected for classrooms that supports children’s natural tendency to move (see "Richtig sitzen in der Schule" (pdf, in german)).

EN 1729-1, “Furniture – Chairs and tables for educational institutions”, published in 2006, states colour-coded functional dimensions and size classes for fixed and adjustable desks and chairs. In comparison to DIN ISO 5970, “Furniture, chairs and tables for educational institutions; functional sizes”, published in 1981, the newer standard addresses dynamic sitting by varying seating angles. It also introduces an additional size class for very tall children.

Nevertheless, the rule in German classrooms continues to be that children sit on non-adjustable skid-frame chairs, at non-adjustable twin desks. Occasionally, two different size classes of desks and chairs to EN 1729-1 may be found in classrooms for some school years. Growth characteristics in childhood however require regular measurement of the children’s height and adaptation of the furniture. This cannot be achieved with the existing furniture. Small classroom dimensions and class sizes that are once again on the rise; desks with lack of adjustment; and folding boards, adjustable for height but attached rigidly in the centre to the wall, permit little variation in teaching forms (frontal instruction vs. open learning).

The “Pro-health and Pro-learning Classroom”

As part of the “Good and Healthy School” model, the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) has, since 2009, been conducting the “Pro-health and Pro-learning Classroom” project in conjunction with the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions for the public sector in North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony. The project aims to study how the structuring of classrooms influences children’s health and learning behaviour. In a sub-project, ergonomic factors such as lighting and colour, climate and ventilation, noise, floor design, and furnishings were optimized in consideration of ergonomic findings and the state of the art, and implemented in two actual classrooms in a primary school in Dresden (Saxony) and a secondary school in Hennef (North Rhine-Westphalia).

Flexibility is the key

For the classes in the project, chairs were selected which can be swivelled and which permit dynamic sitting, i.e. alternation between a forward and rearward seating position, and also inclination to the side. In order to take account of differences in body dimensions, the chairs and desks also feature infinitely variable height adjustment.

The heights of the children’s and teacher’s desks can be adjusted to enable them to work either seated or standing. This alternation in posture is healthy, and promotes physical and mental agility. All desks are fitted with castors, and can therefore be positioned flexibly in the classroom for either frontal instruction or open learning.

The flexible board systems employed on three walls of the room support the alternating modes of instruction. Satchels and work materials are stored on shelves. The shelves are on castors, and can therefore double as partitions. The colours of the furniture, walls, ceiling and floor were selected in accordance with a psychologically sound concept in which the children were able to choose from a number of colour variants.

The initial response from both schools indicates that children and teachers alike are comfortable in their new classrooms. As soon as evaluation of the project has been completed, the DGUV’s “Education” committee of experts will relay the report to decision-makers in the education sector. The results are also to be exploited by the research community and presented to the specialist public at conferences and through publications.

Susan Freiberg                     Dr. Hanna Zieschang
susan.freiberg@dguv.de hanna.zieschang@dguv.de