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Hazardous Co-joined Chairs and Desks in our High Schools

BY: Ben Adobor

A common spectacle in our schools up to Senior High is the presence of desks that are joined with chairs/benches. Some are for single occupancy but others are occupied by more than one child/pupil. I reckon that there must have been good reasons that informed the adoption of this style of furniture for our schools. However, if we thoroughly explore the ergonomics impacts of these Siamese-desks on the well being and learning experience of school children, we will be swift to conclude that they have no place in today’s class room, especially for older students.

These haven’t been around for the long haul. Some of the reasons for their acceptance would include the need to optimize class room space as class sizes increased and the belief that these are more robust compared to separate chairs and tables. Their fixed, small sizes help in the space management and the restricted mobilities impede easy removal from class rooms by pupils, visitors and thieves thereby reducing the risk of exposure to increased wear and tear, theft and maybe vandalism. This design also stops younger pupils from swinging or rocking back on their chairs and falling over. Maybe their rigid yet simple geometrical styling would expedite their making which would ease their mass production.

Despite these reasons, a careful appraisal of their use over the years would reveal that these types of desks are simply not good. They are wasteful of wood, unsafe, uncomfortable and actually more likely to break with use now.

I will expatiate. We no longer have the luxury of the abundance of hardwood that was used for these kinds of furniture in the past. We use soft wood these days and they have a remarkably reduced robustness in this use case. The joinery, usually done with nails, loosen grips and squeak within short periods of time after they are made and break down. The result is the sight of loads of broken furniture in school carpentry workshops. Of utmost consideration is the fact that these fixed dimension desks don’t fit the build and size of all pupils. Most have to either stretch or to crouch into sitting positions. The repetitive strain and discomfort cannot be healthy. More awkward falls happen by these tables resulting in severe injuries than by non-joined furniture. An online search would return images of joined desks under, for example, 20th Century Victorian styling, giving an indication that other people have ceased to use these. We should stop too.

We can explore the combination of metal and wood furniture that are not joined but which would be strong, secure and give better learning experience in the class. Sometimes, you just want to relax in a chair, draw a desk or table over your laps and cross your legs. In some schools in the past, you are assigned a labelled desk and a chair at the beginning of a term and you owe responsibility towards the furniture for the period. You must account for them at the end of term for a clearance to leave or to get a refund for a deposit for furniture use. That should do it. These are little but important ingredients towards creating favourable learning atmosphere and definitely needed as we seek to modernise and advance our education.