Elephant Walk Desk

Stephen Pennington, of the University of Notre Dame, designed this clever desk for classrooms in Nepal, where school furniture is usually old, ugly, and terribly uncomfortable -- if it’s available at all. The Elephant Walk Desk manages to fit a seat, a table top, and storage into a single desk kids might happily mistake for Babar (or the Nepalese equivalent). Woven out of bamboo according to local techniques for making roof tiles, it can be produced exclusively in Nepal.

Lily Pad

Lily Pad is a mat that makes it comfortable for students to sit on the floor in class (which is pretty common in the developing world). Folds in the fabric form a bulwark against pebbles and other uneven surfaces. The pad can also be propped up against a wall, forming a buttercup-shaped backrest and seat, like some sort cheapy Egg Chair. By Shiny Lam and Joey Loi, of Ryerson University

Akshara - Learn As You Play

Sayantani Dasgupta and Meghma Mitra, students at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, in Bangalore, created a jigsaw puzzle for Indian students to learn the alphabet.

Akshara - Learn As You Play

The "pieces" are the script of vernacular Kannada distilled down to its basic forms. Students then assemble the pieces into Kannada or English letters and words. The idea here is that children learn better through touch (and play).

Reach & Match

Monash University’s Lau Shuk Man created a mat that’s designed to educate blind children. One side teaches Braille; the other is for "logical intelligence training" -- basically, motor development and spatial awareness.

Soap Shish

The Soap Shish, by Cansu Akarsu, of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, gently teaches children about hygiene. Taking its cues from abaci, it’s a stand with colorful soap bars skewered onto wooden rods and set down over a faucet. Kids are more inclined to scrub their hands, the thinking goes, because they want to play with the bead-like bars. A bonus: Since the bars are attached to the stand, they’re less likely to be stolen or lost.


Also by Akarsu, padBACK is a cheap biodegradable maxi pad designed for girls in Africa. Made out of papyrus, it can be produced cheaply, then recycled and used as fertilizer. In Akarsu’s telling, inadequate access to sanitary products is a major reason why girls miss school.

Teddy Bag

Here, François Verez and Ane Eguiguren, of the Université Technologique de Compiegne and the Elisava School of Design, designed an ingenious little backpack that converts into a school desk. Built from cardboard, it folds out into a table and a separate seat; as a backpack, it even has enough room for books and binders. No word on whether it’s got a weight limit, but we can only assume it’s a good thing that it wasn’t designed for American kids.

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7 Clever Approaches to a Better Classroom for the Poor

The seven finalists in the 2010 Designing for Education challenge — a competition for student designers to dream up solutions to problems facing children in the developing world — are pretty damn clever. They address everything from hygiene (an abacus made of soap) to education for the blind (a Braille-imprinted mat) to girls' health (a maxi pad made of papyrus).

The Danish nonprofit Index named the finalists recently, in partnership with UNICEF. Now in its second year, the competition is aimed at getting students to think about design as a force of social good. "The INDEX Design Challenge tries to bring to light real challenges that our world faces," says Liza Chong, who oversees the contest, in an email, "and to engage design students in not only designing a market-based solution but to also build capacity and confidence so that solutions can be realized in time." And while the designs are obviously meant for the classrooms of the developing world, some are even stylish enough to look right at home in the gilded halls of Horace Mann. We've got a slideshow here. Enjoy.

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