Sound Field Systems



In early 2006, a gentleman by the name of Peter Snow approached the Lions Club of Titahi Bay. Peter, a Paremata resident at that time, initiated and coordinated this project. It has been a tremendous pleasure  to have met Peter and have built this wonderful relationship with him.  Peter has performed most of the leg work and liaison with schools to gather the necessary information for the project to gain funding, and has continued to work on his project to completion and beyond. 

Without the funding by Mana Community Grants Foundation and the accepted visions from our local schools, principals, students, and community members, this would never have been possible.

Special thanks to Peter Snow for bringing his passion to this project, and Mana Community Grants Foundation for their vision as seeing this as a viable project to the Porirua Community.



helping an estimated 6,000 children at the cost of $407,000,

Lions Club of Titahi Bay give their appreciation and thanks

to Mana Community Grants Foundation and Peter Snow

in providing their support.


Primary and Intermediate schools

Project from April 2006 to July 2007

29 schools / 142 sound field systems




Project from August 2007 to July 2008

4 colleges / 133 sound field systems



School top-up

Project from August 2008 to October 2008

1 school / 7 sound field systems



School top-up

Project from September 2009 to October 2009

1 school / 2 sound field systems



29 schools

4 colleges

284 classrooms

6000 children





The benefits of sound field systems installed in school classrooms are:


  • Children with hearing difficulties are more able to hear and understand their tutors, thereby improving their literacy.  In turn, they are less disruptive through boredom.


  • Children without hearing difficulties are more able to concentrate on their lessons, due to the decrease in disruption caused by children with hearing difficulties.  These children will directly benefit through improved literacy.


  • Tutors who use the sound field headsets find an improvement in their own vocal chords, because they no longer have to raise their voices in class.  There is an added benefit through reduced stress.


  • All involved benefit because the tutors have clearer diction in their speech as a consequence of  using the headsets, through an increased consciousness of their own voices.  Children therefore learn better English and, in households where English is not the first language of choice, the children will speak better English to their families with the opportunity for improved English language skills for the whole families.


  • Ultimately, the whole community benefits because improved literacy leads to better career opportunities for our young people, leading to a more favourable economic and social environment in Porirua.




Narrative of project



Children with Hearing Difficulties


Many children in the Porirua area have hearing difficulties, some permanent and some temporary, and some of which go undetected.  The most common temporary hearing difficulty is a result of a condition known as “glue ear” syndrome, which for most children is a condition lasting some months, but for others, particularly our Pacific island and Maori children, can last for some years.  Research shows that up to one third of all children are suffering from hearing loss at any one time.


Many children with hearing difficulties attempt to “lip-read” their teachers in order to participate in class activities.  However, there are many times when the child cannot actually see the teacher’s lips, e.g. when the teacher is writing on a whiteboard or blackboard, or when the teacher is actually behind the child in the classroom.  This is the danger time for the child, who quickly becomes bored and then becomes disruptive in the class, sometimes to gain attention but also to “fill in time” rather than just sit doing nothing.


In the survey of schools that was conducted to determine the number of sound field systems that are needed, many school Principals which had no sound field systems admitted that they did not know how many of their pupils actually had hearing problems.  Most had just assumed that, because the problems had not been identified, there were no problems.  Hence, children whose hearing difficulties have not been identified will “fall through the cracks” of classroom teaching.



Children without Hearing Difficulties


Most school classrooms either have no soundproofing, or inadequate soundproofing.  This results in less than ideal acoustic conditions for teaching.  It is estimated that for children to actually hear their teachers, the teacher’s voice needs to be at least 15 decibels higher than the ambient noise level.  Soundproofing can go some way to alleviating ambient noise, but at a heavy cost, provided that expert attention is given to the method of soundproofing and the materials used.  However, in summer, school classrooms have open windows for cooling purposes and soundproofing is negated almost entirely in these conditions.  A prime example of this is at Paremata School, which is alongside SH1 near Paremata Roundabout.  On the other hand, Papakowhai School has one classroom that is soundproofed, so effectively that children could not hear their teacher through the deadening of the sound!  This classroom now has a sound field system fitted by The Rotary Club of Plimmerton Inc..


All this means that, even for children without hearing difficulties, conditions are far from ideal for a “learning” environment.  Coupled with noise from children who are disruptive, it is easy to understand that these children, through no fault of their own and without any hearing problems, will also suffer.


Children with hearing difficulties are not the only children who become disruptive in class.  In Porirua, there are a small number of children with other disabilities who can be disruptive, and research in one school, Paremata, has shown that a sound field system has given considerable benefit to a disabled child.





At the same time, many teachers in our schools suffer from long-term damage to their vocal chords due to the need to increase their voice levels to deal with the hearing difficulties of their pupils.  Part of this problem is dealing with ambient noise levels where, typically, bearing in mind that voice levels need to be raised about 15 decibels above the ambient noise levels for children to actually hear their teachers’ voices.


One of the immediate side effects of this is that many teachers feel stressed at the end of each day’s teaching, without necessarily realising the cause.  Teachers who already use sound field systems do comment on the positive effect on stress levels through the use of the systems.


When teachers use the systems for the first time, it is of particular note that pupils immediately comment – “we can hear you now, Miss”.


At the same time, it is recognised that many teachers are reluctant to use the systems that are already installed, usually because they have not been taught how to obtain the best results from the systems, or because they are too self-conscious to use them.  Both suppliers have also offered to set up training programmes within the schools themselves not only for teacher training but also for training caretakers in the installation process.



Alleviate the Problem by Installing Sound Field Systems


These problems can to a large extent be alleviated by the installation and use of sound field systems in all classrooms of schools in Porirua.  Whilst all schools will benefit from the installation of these systems, this application covers primary and intermediate school only as it is believed that the pupils in those schools will derive the greatest long-term benefit from the use of such systems.


Sound Field Systems can make a significant improvement by lifting the teacher’s voice by the minimum of 15 decibels, enabling most children to hear their teachers, no matter where in the classroom the teacher actually stands or sits.  The effect is much like a “surround sound system” installed in one’s home.


The sound field system consists of four speakers, one roughly in each corner of a standard classroom, connected to an receiver/amplifier tuned to a teacher’s headset cordless microphone. The microphone is powered by a rechargeable battery pack, which will require renewing annually at the school’s expense.





In New Zealand, there are three readily identifiable suppliers of sound field systems.


Oticon New Zealand is probably the best-known supplier.  It is a Danish company by background and is backed by the Oticon Research Foundation, a Foundation that is actively involved in developing products for people with hearing difficulties.  This includes hearing aids as well as sound field systems.  Oticon is able to supply systems that are frequency-compatible with hearing aids that children already wear to school.

This is critical because, if the wrong frequency is installed, the child may be listening to the classwork of a different class in an adjacent school room!





Microwave Systems Limited (MSL) is a Wellington-based supplier of a range of radio and electronic equipment for a variety of purposes.  Their major clients are Defence Forces and Police.  However, they have also moved into the supply of sound field systems and have a number of contracts for schools throughout the country.





English Language Diction


A benefit that was not originally anticipated by the installation of sound field systems has been the improvement in the diction  of English language by teachers who use the systems.  This was particularly apparent at Windley School, a school that is completely fitted with sound field systems.  Teachers now speak much better and correct English language in the classrooms, the result of which is that their pupils learn to speak better English. This is a considerable benefit at Windley School, where a vast majority of pupils do not speak English as their mother tongue.  These children transfer their own learning of English into their homes, giving an added benefit to their families.



Community benefits


One of the most compelling issues for Porirua City is the level of literacy amongst our young students.  Any measures that can improve literacy will result in our youngsters being better equipped when they leave school and college to find employment, not just any employment but better careers in the longer term.  In turn, the community as a whole will benefit, both in economic and in social terms, a compelling reason for this project to be funded fully as soon as possible.


There is an instance of a child with considerable learning difficulties in one our local schools benefiting considerably from the installation of a sound field system in his classroom.  Other measures had been previously used to assist the child without success, but the use of a sound field system had a calming influence on the child and his level of literacy has markedly improved.  The case has been the subject of study by a Massey University researcher, who happened to be the boy’s father.


If there are other cases like this one, there is an another benefit to the community in the longer term as this child may be able to carry out useful activities that he would not otherwise have been able to undertake.





Sound Field Systems will not alone solve all of the hearing and literacy-related problems in our Porirua schools.  A variety of measures are needed, such as some acoustic sound-proofing, curtains on windows and carpets rather than lino on floors.  However, these are expensive items and it is believed that of all the measures currently available, sound field systems will provide the greatest benefit for the financial outlay involved.


An issue that needs consideration is that schools should perhaps provide some of the funding for the systems.  However, the schools do not have any available funds from the government’s education budget, and the parents’ groups have scarce funds.  If full funding of this project from a community grant can be made possible, the funds raised by parents can be used for other much-needed facilities.


There will always be occasions when it is inappropriate to use sound field systems in a classroom environment.  Therefore, the systems will not be in use at all times, for example, when one-to-one remedial reading classes are in progress.  Furthermore, although courses will be in place for teachers to learn how to obtain the best use of the systems, some will nevertheless be reluctant to use the systems.  One successful way of overcoming this is for the pupils to continually ask their teachers to use the systems, in order that they may benefit.


As a result of this project, Lions Club of Titahi Bay were honoured with the Lions Services to Children Award

InforMer Vol 2 No 7 24th March 2008.pdf (289kb)