Home' Teacher : May 2011 Contents FEATURE -- SCHOOL DESIGN & SUPPLY 53
School students are spending more time on
computers at school and at home than ever
before. While there are real benefits to inte-
grating technology in the classroom, there are
also dangers. Most schools have strategies in
place to deal with the most obvious risks of
cyberbullying and access to inappropriate
content, but the risks to students' physical
health may be overlooked because the effects
are less immediate.
More time spent on the computer poten-
tially means more time spent slouching or
straining, and this can lead to back and neck
pain and musculoskeletal disorders such as
such as tension neck syndrome, repetitive
strain injury and occupational overuse syn-
Research on adult computer use has found
that people who spend long hou rs sitting at
desks run an increased risk of developing
musculoskeletal disorders. Researchers say
this is because of the sustained contractions
of the muscles in the neck, back and arms
responsible for maintaining a rigid posture.
The risk of injury is higher for people
involved in technology-based tasks because
we tend to move less, for example, when star-
ing at a fixed-height computer monitor with
hands resting on a keyboard than when using
pen and paper.
Further, long-term physical damage is even
more likely to affect school students than office
workers, simply because children and young
adults experience a period of rapid growth in
spinal structures, which means effects on pos-
ture at this time are intensified.
Outside of school, this lack of postural vari-
ation is aggravated for students who also spend
time engrossed in computer-based pastimes
such as playing games, surfing the internet,
social networking, and, yes, some of them
might even be doing their homework.
Inside the classroom, ignorance exacer-
bates the problem. Schools recognise the
importance of information and communica-
tion technology (ICT) but funding is typically
allocated to the most obvious resources, such
as computer hardware and software, with
little money spent on training or ergonomic
furniture. Teachers are often not trained to be
aware of optimal workstation set-up; simple,
practical details like adjusting chairs to the
height of the user, positioning computer key-
boards and monitors at the right distance, and
taking regular breaks to move and stretch.
So, while the days of strict schoolteachers
admonishing kids to 'sit up straight' after a
full day of sitting at excruciatingly uncomfort-
able flip-top wooden desks may be gone, atten-
tion to posture and correct workstation design
is still essential in schools.
Increasingly, schools are recognising that
students need ergonomic furniture and equip-
ment, as well as training in correct worksta-
tion set-up and safe work practices.
Computer usage and its effects
A 2006 study of the effect of workstation
design on Western Australia schoolkids,
ITKids, found that nearly 40 per cent of stu-
dents aged between 11 and 14 used a com-
puter for more than an hour a day, including
five per cent of students that used a computer
for more than three hours a day. It seems likely
that these percentages would have increased
substantially since the survey was completed.
The National Assessment Program -- ICT
Literacy, for example, found that the percent-
ERGONOMIC AWARENESS AND WELL-DESIGNED FURNITURE AND SCHOOL
BAGS CAN PREVENT PAIN, INJURY AND POOR POSTURE FOR STUDENTS.
REBECCA LEECH EXPLAINS.
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