Millions of Schools Shut Due to Record High Temperatures, Exacerbating Global Learning Disparities.

Millions of Schools Shut Due to Record High Temperatures, Exacerbating Global Learning Disparities.
  • May 2, 2024
  • 38

Hena Khan, a ninth-grader in Dhaka, has found it difficult to concentrate on her schoolwork this week due to the city's temperatures surpassing 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit).

"In this oppressive heat, there is no real education in schools," the woman declared. "Students can't focus, and teachers can't teach. Instead, there is a risk to our lives.

In recent weeks, heatwaves in areas of Asia and North Africa have caused the closure of schools for over 40 million students, including Khan. Heatwaves are growing longer and peaking at higher temperatures as a result of global warming brought on by the burning of fossil fuels.

Conversely, decision-makers in government and public health circles worldwide are finding it more and more difficult to decide whether to continue teaching pupils in warm classrooms or to advise them to stay at home and stay cool.

There are repercussions for either choice. According to United Nations data, over 17 percent of school-age children worldwide are already not in school. However, the percentage is substantially higher in developing nations, with nearly a third of children in sub-Saharan Africa not in school, compared to just 3 percent in North America.

Child test scores in developing nations are also lower than those in developed nations.

According to academics cited by Reuters, heat might intensify inequality by increasing the learning gaps between developed and developing countries in the tropics and even between wealthy and impoverished areas inside industrialised nations. However, putting kids in sweltering classrooms could cause illness.

In late March of this year, South Sudan shuttered its schools for about 2.2 million kids due to high temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). In late April, thousands of schools in the Philippines and India closed their doors to about 10 million students.

In order to prevent the noon heat wave, Cambodia ordered all public schools on Wednesday to shorten the school day by two hours.

Amid pressure to get kids ready for examinations, Bangladesh has hesitated between opening and closing schools for almost 33 million students, even as temperatures reach dangerous heights.
According to Save the Children's Bangladesh country director Shumon Sengupta, many schools in the nation "don't have fans, the ventilation is not good, and they might have tin roofing, which does not provide good insulation."

Hot heads

Students' education is likely to deteriorate even if they show up to class during heatwaves.

Elevated body temperatures diminish the brain's cognitive processes, hence reducing students' capacity to learn and retain knowledge. According to a 2020 study, students in US high schools who saw higher temperatures in the year preceding their standardised test did not do as well.

According to research that was published in the American Economic Journal, learning decreased by 1% for every degree Celsius (1F) that the school year was warmer. According to Boston University economist Josh Goodman, co-author of the study, a large portion of that impact vanished in classrooms with air conditioning.

Various estimates suggest that between 40 and 60 percent of US schools have air conditioning, if not full air conditioning. Without it, schools are typically located in less affluent districts that already lag behind their more affluent peers academically.

When Goodman and his colleagues examined standardised test data from other nations, they discovered comparable learning outcomes related to heat. He said that "students in these places appear to have learned less when they experience a year with more heat."

According to an additional study, a child's education may be impacted by extreme heat in the tropics even before they are born.

According to a 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, children in Southeast Asia who were exposed to temperatures above average while still in utero and during their early years of life received fewer years of education.

Goodman said, all of this is concerning because, as the world warms, hotter countries would suffer more than temperate ones when they transition to even hotter climates.

Goodman states, "Climate change will widen the learning gaps between hot and cool countries." A few industrialised nations are making an effort to solve the problem.

A USAID spokesperson said the US Agency for International Development (USAID) declared in March that it would construct thirty heat-resistant schools in Jordan by 2026 "to address the projected increase in extreme heat days in Jordan."

USAID said it would invest $8.17 million in the schools, including details not previously released. Passive cooling devices and air conditioning will be used to help keep the schools open. In the US, the number of days that schools are closed due to excessive heat has been rising, but few other nations keep track of this information.

According to Paul Chinowsky, a civil engineer who oversaw a 2021 study on schools and rising temperatures for the company Resilient Analytics, US schools are currently cancelling classes for heat-related reasons on average six to seven days per year, compared with roughly three to four days a decade earlier.

According to Sengupta of Save the Children, schools in Bangladesh were shuttered for six to seven days last year. Since May is typically the hottest month in South Asia, he continued, "But this year, they are saying it might be closed for 3 to 4 weeks."

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