Recycled polystyrene lap desks provide writing surface for disadvantaged learners

Submitted by: Tholakele Nene, Thursday, June 5, 2014

<p>Large numbers of students in disadvantaged schools can now benefit from the Tutu desks, which provides a stable writing surface.</p>

Large numbers of students in disadvantaged schools can now benefit from the Tutu desks, which provides a stable writing surface.

Approximately 95 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to classroom desks which impacts on their handwriting, performance and concentration. In some cases children receive their lessons under trees or in classrooms without desks, requiring them to balance their work on the floor, their laps or on their chairs. This is according to the Tutudesk Campaign, a campaign that is aimed at improving the classroom learning experience for these children, through its innovative lap desk creation, known as the Tutudesk.  The Tutudesk is a portable desk made from a combination of virgin material and recycled high impact polystyrene, which is the same type of plastic used to make yoghurt tubs.

The Tutudesk campaign has partnered with the Polystyrene Packaging Council (PSPC) to assist with the collection of used yoghurt tubs at schools in the Gauteng area. The PSPC provides the schools with two wheelie bins, with stickers, containing information about the respective campaigns. One for the collection of breadtags, for the breadtag for wheelchairs campaign and the other for the collection of yoghurt tubs, plastic cutlery and other high impact polystyrene material, for the Tutudesk campaign. The PSPC works with already existing recyclers around the area to collect the material from the schools.

The idea to use recycled high impact polystyrene in the manufacturing of the Tutudesks was largely influenced by the need to contribute to the protection of the environment and to educate more people about the importance of recycling. According to Adri Spangenberg of the Polystyrene Packaging Council, using recycled high impact polystyrene is a better choice, “It saves on resources and landfill space” while also encouraging the community to recycle.

The portable desk

The Tutudesk is a thin, light (weighs less than one kilogram), flat, non-toxic plastic desk with a handle. The desk is portable, easy to carry from lesson to lesson and comes in different colours and designs; each carrying information from a specific sponsor. The mix of plastic polymers used to make the desks allows for flexibility and protects the desk from shattering like other plastics. The desks are designed to last for a period of five years.

The Tutudesk sits on the child’s lap and provides the child with a stable surface to write on, whether they are sitting on the floor or on a chair. The stable surface allows children to practice their writing skills and write more legibly. Furthermore, these children don’t have to balance their exercise books on their laps or against a friends back, to attempt to write legibly. Because the desk is small “you can fit more children in a classroom,”  says the CEO of the Tutudesk Campaign Laurence Woodburn.

Woodburn adds that what makes these desks a better solution compared to the traditional wooden desks is that they do not have a valuable ‘alternative’ market value like the wooden desks do. In some areas the metal parts of desks are sold for scrap metal and the wood used to fuel fires. Moreover, the desks assist in addressing an urgent, national priority of classroom furniture, adds Woodburn.

The desk is portable, easy to carry from lesson to lesson and comes in different colours and designs; each carrying information from a specific sponsor.

Sponsors and beneficiaries

To date, over 1 million desks have been distributed across Africa to disadvantaged schools. According to Woodburn, “All desks are provided through donations and sponsorships. In return, the donor customizes the design and gets credit on the desks. Children and schools receive the desks free of charge.”

A sustainable method that yields results

Since the distribution of the first set of desks, there have been noticeable changes in learning and the attitude of learners and teachers has also changed. A survey conducted by the Tutudesk campaign reported that 76% of teachers found the classroom to be more organised than before. 80% said handwriting is easier to read and teachers can interact better with students. Meanwhile, 72% are able to write more during a lesson .

The Tutudesk campaign has been well received throughout South Africa and in neighbouring countries. It has also received recognition through a number of awards, such as the SEED awards and proudly South African campaign and new business of the year award.

Branching out

The campaign is not limited to South Africa but all of Africa, focusing on the most disadvantaged communities. The campaign objective is to distribute 20 million desks to 20 million children by the year 2020.

Who qualifies to receive a Tutudesk?

Any school is eligible for receiving the Tutudesk. In most cases, the desks are provided to schools where 30% of the children do not have classroom desks.

Ways in which your school can be identified:

  • Through research conducted by the Tutudesks Campaign or one of their partners
  • The principal of the school can write a letter of request to the Tutudesk Campaign
  • The country’s government or authority may request Tutudesks for priority schools with the greatest need

For more information on how you can become a donor, or how your school can be eligible for sponsorship contact the Tutudesk Campaign. If your school would like to be involved in the collection of high impact polystyrene waste that can be directed into the manufacturing of Tutudesks, you can contact the Polystyrene Packaging Council.

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Tholakele Nene