School furniture – produced in Africa, for Africa

Comfortable, right-sized, durable school furniture is conducive to learning. Research, as well as feedback from children and teachers, however, shows that school furniture is too often unavailable in Africa. When it is available, it may be poorly designed, inappropriately sized for a student’s age or disproportionately expensive.

Importing school furniture from overseas and shipping it around the massive continent hasn’t been effective. It is costly, furniture gets damaged en route, and it doesn’t support the local economy or sustainability.  Because of this, we have developed an innovation project to help children access child-friendly, locally produced school furniture.

Pink school desk in Malawi
A version of the desk as it was produced in Malawi last week. ©UNICEF/2014/Bo Strange Sorensen

The design is based on locally available materials and common manufacturing tools. It is adjustable, durable and is packed so it can be assembled at schools. This prevents damage during road transport and reduces transport costs – both current barriers for getting furniture to the hardest-to-reach communities. With design and manufacturing instructions publicly available, production can occur across Africa.

By April, kids in Malawi will be sitting on the furniture and giving us their feedback. Their teachers will be, too.

We want local solutions for creating conducive learning spaces and achieving quality education for children – an endeavour too important to let practical issues interfere.

If you have ideas for school furniture that can be locally produced, we would love to hear about it.

For more information on this project, please visit UNICEF Innovation.


Shanelle Hall is the Director of UNICEF Supply Division, the organization’s procurement and logistics headquarters in Copenhagen.  She focuses on both the global availability and local delivery of essential supplies for children in more than 100 countries.


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  1. I did read the news item on school furniture with interest. In this connection, I wish to raise a few points as follows:

    1. Will it be possible to share the detailed specifications, design and manufacturing techniques of school furniture with other country offices? Or, it is too early until we have feedback from Malawi?

    2. I understand this initiative is being taken in Malawi. Do we have any indication on the cost of each set of desk/chair? I know, the cost of production will vary from country to country; but, just for some rough idea would like to know.

    3. I am sure when we talk about the school furniture, we are taking into consideration different sizes of furniture for various age groups of students (e.g., KG/Prep/Nursery/Primary, etc.). Hope, standardized specs for all segment of furniture are available.

    The purpose of my asking above questions is to explore the possibility of creating some interest in the local market of Accra, Ghana, to manufacture similar, low cost, durable furniture for remote schools of Ghana in close consultation with Education Section and their govt counterparts.

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