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Poor Air Quality is Holding Students Back: What Can We Do?

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Over 300 million children breathe toxic air in conditions that surpass international limits six-fold. We understand the risk that air pollution poses on children’s health, but does it affect their learning capabilities?

Air quality has long been linked to productivity, having a huge impact on both cognitive and physical performance. But the majority of reporting on this issue focuses on adult productivity levels. But as air pollution affects children so heavily, more and more researchers are studying the link between the effects of air pollution on children’s learning and development.

Why Are Children More Susceptible to Air Pollution?

A child’s airway lining is not only more permeable but also smaller. This, combined with the fact that children breathe twice as fast (ingesting a larger amount of air proportion to their body weight), may be deadly if they develop infections.

Childhood is a period of immense growth. New cells that form each day could be thwarted from good development as a result of air pollution and when these cells multiply, the problem exacerbates. Chronic illness may easily arise from this, unavoidably impacting their quality of life now and in the future.

How Does Air Pollution Affect Children’s Learning?

There is mounting evidence to suggest that the effects of air pollution on children’s health is impacting their studies. At a time when learning is so crucial to development, air pollution could be the hindrance that holds children back from achieving their best.

Some studies include:

  • Researchers found that test scores decline when students take tests on days when the air pollution is high.

  • Another study found that there were correlations between a school with increased levels of air pollution from being downwind to a motorway to lower test scores and higher absences.

  • An economist at a London university collected particulate matter in exam rooms and found that students performed worse in exam rooms that had higher levels of air pollution.

  • Researchers in London found that indoor air quality in classrooms was worse than outdoor air quality.

Students spend half of their day indoors. They and their guardians should be able to trust that they’re not being exposed to harmful pollutants while in a seemingly safe environment. However, the evidence suggests otherwise, and is causing their development to suffer.

While reduction in outdoor air pollutants is needed to keep children safe, it seems there should also be equal focus on indoor exposure and how this can be reduced.