Heat risks and unsafe schools disrupt learning

Wednesday, 21 February, 2024

Heat risks and unsafe schools disrupt learning

Extreme heat and fire risks are affecting Australian students, with record temperatures forcing school closures.

Research recently published by Parents for Climate and Sweltering Cities shows that extreme heat is negatively impacting children’s health and education. The report, ‘Hothouse Australia’, finds that kids are more susceptible to a range of health issues due to extreme heat and are less capable of mitigating these risks. Also, it’s difficult for kids to learn when it’s hot.

High air temperatures and lower hydration are known to affect children’s ability to concentrate. Studies show that optimal learning environments have a consistent temperature between 22°C and 24°C. They also show that learning outcomes decrease by about 1.5% with each 2°C increase in temperature above 24°C.

Western Australia in particular is feeling the heat, with 28 school closures impacting more than 2000 students. Students returned to school in Perth this year in the midst of yet another heatwave and six public schools lost power, leaving some students sweltering without air conditioning, while others were sent home.

Additionally, Perth recently recorded its seventh day above 40°C in February — the most ever recorded in one month. Further north, Carnarvon has just had its highest temperature ever recorded at 49.9°C, smashing its previous all-time heat record by more than 2°C.

Perth teacher and mother-of-two Sonya Elek is very concerned about the disruptions students will face to their learning as heatwaves made worse by the burning of coal and gas become more frequent and intense.

“Our kids are bearing the burden of government inaction on carbon pollution,” Elek said.

“Learning is being disrupted — kids can’t concentrate on extreme heat days. School closures are highly disruptive to the students and to their families’ daily routines. And we are seeing the stress and anxiety levels of students, teachers and parents become exacerbated as the heatwaves continue.”

“The majority of parents we talk to are telling us they are struggling with the heat. Kids, especially toddlers, are being forced to stay indoors, instead of playing outside. Extracurricular activities and sporting events are being cancelled. Kids are missing out on learning opportunities when schools are closed or it’s too hot to learn,” said Nic Seton, CEO at Parents For Climate.

According to Parents for Climate, without action this crisis will only worsen. By 2050, hundreds of thousands of Australian children will face severe and extreme heat that risks their lives, health and learning.

Image credit: iStock.com/lamyai

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