Standing desks that help adults to move more during the day are gaining popularity worldwide. Now researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FHMS) have developed an affordable, adaptable school chair to make this possible for children, too.
School furniture in public schools haven’t changed in 100 years. Stellenbosch University (SU) researchers from the FMHS’ Division of Physiotherapy have developed a multi-functional innovation for learners that encourages movement in the classroom.
The KUZE is the result of years of research in the area of posture and ergonomics by Prof Quinette Louw, Executive Head of the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and SU researchers Dr Sjan-Mari Brown and Dominic Fisher.
When research conﬁrmed that learners in the Western Cape still routinely use anthropometrically mismatched classroom furniture that restricts movement and optimal sitting posture, the idea of creating adjustable, multi-functional classroom furniture was sparked.
The KUZE was designed to allow learners to easily transition between sitting and standing in the classroom. It’s a simple, robust innovation that helps to reduce the health risks associated with sedentary behaviour (for example overweight, obesity and type 2 diabetes), while also reducing the risk for back and neck pain. Regular changes in position have also been shown to increase attention, which directly beneﬁts academic performance.
Louw explains that the KUZE is not only a height-adjustable chair, but that it transforms into a height-adjustable standing desk when placed on an existing desk or table. “When used as a standing desk, the KUZE takes up signiﬁcantly less classroom ﬂoor space. This facilitates additional movement. It also facilitates group work, which traditional desks and chairs invariably restrict as a result of their bulk and weight.”
In addition to its multi-functionality, the KUZE doesn’t have any mechanical parts, making it easy for young children to adjust themselves. Once children have identiﬁed their ideal sitting and standing height levels with the help of an adult, they can quickly and independently transition between sitting and standing in the classroom or in their home environment. The KUZE “grows” with the child and can be used from the age of 3 up to 18 years.
“The KUZE has a sliding desktop that can be moved to the right or left, increasing the work surface. It also comes with a removable component that easily attaches to create a book or document stand,” Louw explains.
Valuable feedback from learners
Louw and her team recently put the KUZE to the test in classrooms in Kensington and Gugulethu in the Western Cape, with the aim of determining to what extent the equipment increases activity levels.
The primary aim of this phase of the research was to understand the contextual factors that need to be considered when undertaking a large study, while at the same time collecting preliminary objective measurements of the effect of classroom behaviour change. In the study, objective measures of learner physical activity were measured with wearable physical-activity logging sensors before introducing the KUZE into the classrooms. More measurements were taken two months later.
“Our ﬁndings indicated that learners can spend up to 95% of classroom time and 90% of their school day sitting,” says Louw. The initial study ﬁndings showed that, by simply exchanging traditional classroom furniture for the KUZE, there was a decrease in the amount of sitting time.
However, say the researchers, much more needs to be done to change learner and teacher behaviour to optimise the use of sit-stand furniture within the South African context. This was particularly evident in schools based in relatively resource-scarce communities, with factors such as poor nutrition and a high teacher-learner ratio playing a role (at one of the test schools, one teacher was responsible for up to 150 learners).
Many learners enjoyed having a multifunctional and adaptable school chair, but had to get used to doing school work while standing. Some learners commented how being able to stand up when they started feeling sleepy helped them to remain attentive towards the end of a long day.
“The teachers were positive about the potential and need for this intervention in our schools, but the organisational dynamics of the conventional classroom may not be suitable,” the researchers say.
Plans to extend project
The feasibility study provided Louw and her team valuable feedback, which can now be used to inform the design of the next prototype/patent, and further research. In addition, it has increased awareness in schools about the need for a change to traditional classroom dynamics. “We’ve already planned to extend the existing project by implementing a learner-and-teacher awareness and training programme,” Louw says.
While the KUZE isn’t yet available for sale, plans for commercialisation are underway. The South African patent and design rights were ﬁled in November 2017, and the application for the international patent was submitted at the end of September 2018. Innovus, the SU interaction and innovation company, facilitated this process and also assisted Louw and her team in making decisions about the future commercialisation of the KUZE.
“The project ﬁndings have inspired us to make signiﬁcant changes to the KUZE, which will make it context friendly,” Louw concludes. “We also have plans to extend feasibility assessment to other countries and will collaborate with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University next year.”