Students spend hours a day in classrooms, so it is critical to their learning to have places to sit that are healthful and comfortable.

Schools and universities should outfit their classrooms and other learning spaces with furniture that enables students to carry out their school work comfortably and does not detract from their ability to focus and learn.

Old and inflexible

Many classrooms in schools and universities are equipped with desks, tables and chairs that aren’t appropriate for the young clientele that use them. A report from the University of Manitoba, "Ergonomics for Schoolchildren," states that more than 83 percent of elementary school students sit at chair-desk combinations that are not suitable for their body height.

The report says that conventional chairs in many classrooms have a rigid seat that inclines backwards and connects to the seat, which may cause a lack of blood circulation; a rounding of the back; tense shoulder, neck and back muscles; a spinal cord that is pressed to one side; and a constriction of the digestive organs.

Ergonomically appropriate chairs, the report says, should enable students to move while they are seated. Examples include a chair with a flexible back that enables a student to change the seat inclination, or a chair with a rocking mechanism.

For desk surfaces, the University of Manitoba report recommends desks equipped with castors so that students can move around, or a height-adjustable table that can serve as a lectern where children can stand as they carry out their work.

The surface of the desk should be inclined at an angle of about 16 degrees—horizontal tops cause children’s backs to become round and their heads to bend back as they are working, the report says.

Size adjustments

Because the age range and size differences among students in a school—even within an individual classroom—may be significant, schools that have adjustable chairs and desks will be better able to provide students with properly fitted work spaces.

The website Ergonomics4schools.com recommends that seats should allow a student’s body to be comfortable and not restricted.

•The seat height should not be so high so that a student’s legs are dangling. Dangling legs lead to pressure on the soft tissues under one’s thighs, and that "interferes with the return of blood from the lower limbs, which may cause tingling and numbness in the thighs."

•The seat depth should have clearance at the back of one’s knees in order to prevent pressure on the network of blood vessels and nerves.

•The seat back and angle of a seat should support the natural curves of a person’s spine.

•When a student is seated, the main weight bearing should be taken by the bony parts of one’s bottom and the top half of the thighs.

In addition, a chair should enable a student to change posture periodically so that different groups of muscles can be used for support. The consequences of poor seating are discomfort, fatigue and inefficiency in what a student is doing.