What should you do when little Sally comes home from school, rearranges the computer workstation and demands a kid-sized mouse? Commend your local school district for their fabulous ergonomics program. But don’t expect it to happen anytime soon.
While technology makes today’s public schools seem a far cry from film-strips and Big Chief tablets, from an ergonomics perspective, schools still have a long way to go, says Cheryl Bennett.
As Chair of the International Ergonomics Association’s (IEA) Ergonomics for Children and Educational Environments Technical Committee (ECEE TC), Bennett is well aware of the state of schoolhouse ergonomics and overall, it’s not making the grade. Even in a basic application of computer workstation ergonomics, when studies show that approximately 80 percent of kids ages eight to 18 regularly use computers, schools have yet to adopt ergonomic solutions.
“It’s never too early,” says Bennett, indicating that school-based ergonomics initiatives and education can do nothing but help children. “They’re human beings. Think of the difference [ergonomics] has made for adults. It will help [children], too.”
It’s not that schools are opposed to ergonomics; rather, indicates Bennett, schools and school districts face stumbling blocks to the implementation of ergonomics programs. It sounds expensive, funding is short, other programs like physical education, art and music are facing cuts – how can a new program like ergonomics be implemented?
“There are all kinds of things you can do that don’t cost a lot of money,” says Bennett. “It takes a lot to get a new kind of training on the docket for teachers, but there are inexpensive improvements and ways to adjust.” One study, for example, found that less time spent sitting made for better learning in children; an execution of that finding could mean fewer, but adjustable, work spaces. Or an ergonomics program could focus on teaching teachers and parents as well as students, creating a program that comes full circle from classroom to home. But the answers could be different for each school or district; so far, no one fully knows.
That’s why Bennett is so excited about the committee that has been set up by the State of New Jersey to study ergonomics in schools in that state and to make recommendations on ways to incorporate ergonomics into the classroom.
“I’m hoping that a lot [of what ergonomics in the classroom should be] will be defined by the New Jersey [committee],” says Bennett, who also says that ergonomics in the classroom is also a worldwide concern. Her office regularly receives emails from around the globe requesting information regarding teaching ergonomics to children. Also, after last summer’s IEA 2003 conference where Bennett counted over 30 presentations and papers regarding children and ergonomics, she sees the marriage of ergonomics and children as a topic that’s rapidly gaining steam. “Give the kids the skill to understand what’s good for their bodies and what’s not and they can make the choices for themselves,” says Bennett.
Bennett’s group, the ECEE TC, is also seeking papers, specifically regarding ergonomics in schools, for an upcoming publication of the journal Ergonomics. For more information regarding submitting a paper on ergonomics and schools, visit the ECEE TC website at http://www.iea.cc/ergonomics4children/. Deadline for submission is February 1, 2004.