The invisible problem with our schools

Bad air is hard to talk away

Recently we’ve heard more and more about inclusion in the classrooms and how to ensure that all children and young people have fair and equal access to education. Nutritional intake, physical activity, segregation and access to premises through various physical adaptations are examples of laudable areas that have received their fair share of attention. But can we truly talk about inclusive education without addressing the significant challenges posed by poor indoor air?

For example, organizations such as the Young Allergy Sufferers’ Association in Sweden dispute this, and they have lots of arguments that are difficult to counter. Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is not something you can talk away  when looking at students’ development and learning opportunities in the school environment.

Even a moderately degraded IAQ can cause all kinds of diseases and helps spread infections that result in sick days for both students and staff. But there are things that go beyond that obvious problem.

Clean air gives 50% better cognitive ability

In-depth studies show that indoor air also has a direct impact on individual learning opportunities. For example, a study from Barcelona shows how traffic pollution affects school children; children who spend their school days in areas with clean air have more than 50% better cognitive development over a school year than children in areas with a lot of traffic pollution.

Studies also show how poor indoor air quality reduces students’ ability to succeed at specific tasks that require concentration, calculation and memory. Other research results also point to how bad indoor air can cause verbal, perceptual, motor and behavioral disabilities in children.

The younger the children are, the more vulnerable they are to harmful and irritating particles such as pollutants, allergens, chemicals and ultrafine particles (i.e., below X PM, see article on particle sizes). Their lung development is directly affected by the level of air pollution they are exposed to. High exposure during early development years has been associated with reduced lung capacity throughout life, while research increasingly reports how it also drives the development of asthma.

Fortunately, there are tailor-made offers backed by scientific evidence that meet the challenges of school air quality and reduce problems in our classrooms. This invisible problem, quite simply, has clear and concrete solutions.


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