Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Classrooms of the future taking shape

Lessons to be learned from Hawkes Bay firm with innovative furniture in education show.

Nigel Bassett works from a pod rather than a teacher's desk. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Nigel Bassett works from a pod rather than a teacher's desk. Photo / Brett Phibbs

When social sciences teacher Nigel Bassett moved into his new classroom he chose not to have a desk.

Mr Bassett instead opted for a "teachers' pod", a lectern-like storage box that can be moved around his class in Carmel College's new building.

Other details make the classroom completely different to those of yesteryear - different shaped and sized tables have replaced desks. Those at the back of the room are higher, with curved tables big enough for one or two students at the side.

When the Herald visited yesterday, students' work on their laptops was visible on a screen at the front of the classroom, above Mr Bassett's head.

"Most of my work nowadays that comes from the students is electronic, so I don't need as much storage space, and it just frees up my working area," he said of his teacher's pod.

"If I need to sit down and work I'll sit down with the students - I'll just grab a seat at one of the desks."

The teachers' pod and much of the new furniture being used in all of Carmel's classrooms is designed and produced by Hawkes Bay company Furnware. The company was established in Hastings in 1934 (It is PO Box 1, Watties is 2) and has become a world leader in furniture for the education sector.

Its story will feature in this weekend's Festival of Education, a three-day Ministry of Education-sponsored event highlighting innovation and success in New Zealand education.

The festival at the Viaduct Event Centre is open to the public and will also include a presentation by an international expert in school design, Christian Long.

Not long ago the type of learning environment seen at Carmel College was considered radical, but it is now standard for new classroom developments.

"Probably four or five years ago two or three really innovative schools were taking those kinds of risks," said Jeremy Ross, Furnware's marketing manager. "And then the collaborative nature of New Zealand schools meant those learnings were shared with the wider group, and slowly what became a fairly radical idea is now essentially the norm."

Overseas sales are booming too. Six years ago 5 per cent of furniture was sold overseas, now it is closer to 50 per cent. Furnware sells to 10 countries, and the firm is negotiating a local partnership that it expects will would open up the Chinese market.

Mr Ross said being a New Zealand company was a big help in selling overseas, as was being associated with the New Zealand education sector, which was held in high regard internationally.

Festival of Education

* The Auckland leg of the Festival of Education will be held at the Viaduct Event Centre from Friday to Sunday, and is open to the public. Events and activities are free of charge.

* The event will feature student work and performances as well as discussions about education issues including technology and toddlers, how to get your child "school ready'', and cybersafety lessons for parents.

* Presentations include one by education researcher John Hattie on the importance of passion in learning, and how it can be subject to mastery through skilled and informed practice.

On the web: aucklandfestivalofeducation.org.nz.

- NZ Herald

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