Is education really available to every student?
Bad air quality makes learning challenging and creates excluding environments in classrooms
In Sweden, one in ten people is affected by asthma and every fourth individual has a pollen allergy. Let those numbers sink in. They show that we are incredibly many – including people in our immediate vicinity – who can testify to how difficult it is with concentration, productivity or energy levels when air quality problems are at their worst.
Of course, not all allergy sufferers have daily problems year-round and far from everyone has severe symptoms. But about half of them do. And what does it look like for the children in each class who also have asthma or other upper respiratory diseases? We know for a fact that 10% of the population have challenges with these diseases, and that this also applies to school children and youngsters.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, respiratory illnesses are the most common cause of absenteeism in school. They report that asthma-related diseases alone account for a staggering 14 million missed school days every year in the US.
That number is frightening, and even if we only include children and youth with more severe challenges, probably every fifth or sixth student does not have an education that is available to them on equal terms – if we don’t also address the issue of bad air.
Harmful particles come from many directions
Air pollution in schools comes from different sources, and from a property perspective, air quality is affected by both internal and external sources. In older schools, harmful particles can be generated by the school building itself, from radon and asbestos to mold and dust.
In more recently built schools, there are occasional challenges with tightly sealed buildings that limit natural ventilation. In addition, there may be a negative impact from synthetic building materials and furniture that generate hazardous particles.
Ventilation itself is often a challenge from many perspectives, but improving it doesn’t solve the particle problem. In the best case, new air is added, improving the circulation but not necessarily the air quality. Obviously, we have to find another way to clean up the air.
Routine indoor activities generate 8 out of 10 particles
It is also important to realize that daily activities generate about 80% of airborne particles. Most of this through human activity on the premises.
These dangerous particles are often mixed into classroom air that is already at risk due to outside air pollution, such as traffic exhaust fumes, pollen and smoke. Appallingly, studies are showing that it is common for unhealthy particle levels to be 2 to 5 times higher in the classroom than just outside the classroom window.
At the same time, the situation is far from hopeless. Modern technology offers practical and effective tools to combat indoor air pollution, and there are tailor-made solutions, backed by scientific evidence, to meet the challenges of air quality in schools. It should be routine to invest in reducing these classroom problems, and thus contribute to educational inclusivity for all children, when the window of opportunity for knowledge development is so short .
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