Eight out of ten Spanish students have had to cool down or use fans during classes. What’s more, “only 16% of the time they spend in schools are in adequate conditions.” These are not isolated data: it is the reality of a country in which the majority of schools were built before there were energy efficiency criteria.
And that, now that we discover that heat is not only an environmental or comfort issue, but also purely educational. It’s a huge problem.
An educational problem? That’s what the data says. For example, in 2020 and after analyzing more than 13 years of tests and temperatures in New York City, Professor R. Jisung Park, from the University of Pennsylvania, came to a (perhaps not so) surprising conclusion: for students with an equivalent level, taking an exam at 32 degrees meant 15% lower grades than doing it at 21 degrees.
That meant that (at 32 degrees) there was a 10.9% less chance of passing the course and a 2.5% less chance of graduating on time. If we ground the percentages, we find that between 1998 and 2011 alone, 510,000 exams were failed that would not have been failed with better thermal conditions. At least 90,000 students were affected.
And it is not (far from it) an isolated case. Jisung Park himself, together with a team from UCLA, investigated the data in the US and discovered that it was something quite established. They found that “without air conditioning, an increase of 0.55 degrees Celsius during the school year reduces that year’s learning by 1%.” Plus, that would explain up to 5% of the achievement gap between students (because, they found, heat hits minorities the hardest).
“Distracted, agitated and have a hard time focusing.” Those words from another of the internationally renowned researchers, Joshua Goodman, well summarize the scientific consensus.
What happens in Spain? “Currently, Spain is one of the countries most affected by the increase in temperatures and heat waves within the Mediterranean region,” explained Dariya Ordanovich, from the CSIC’s Institute of Economics, Geography and Demography. According to a study published a few months ago, the population of Spain has been able to adapt relatively successfully to extreme temperatures in recent years. It has done so, most of the time, despite the infrastructure. And the best example is schools.
Although it is increasingly clear that heat spikes are going to become more frequent in the coming years, the message being sent from the administrations is that the “RENOVE plan” we would need to air-condition the 30,000 educational centers in the country “it is unaffordable” and the response is reduced, as the Andalusian Confederation of Associations of Parents of Students for Public Education (Codapa) denounced a few weeks ago, in repeating “year after another the same emergency plans that do not work “.
Every man for himself. In fact, in Andalusia itself, centers and institutes have spent years “advancing the start or giving classes in parks to alleviate the heat.” What’s more, those who have installed air conditioning have done so (except for some isolated municipal initiative) with money from the AMPA and the center’s own funds.
It is true that some regional administrations have announced the future air conditioning of the centers, but without clear and specific plans (or, directly, retracting after a short time). The initiatives to improve the insulation and thermal functioning of kindergartens, schools and institutes are not advancing either.
The only thing that begins to “move” are regulations that allow the schedules to be adapted. Something that is not very effective in a country where intensive school hours are almost ubiquitous.
What are we waiting for? That is the big question. A question that is critical because, although there are no cost-effective studies in Spain, those that have been carried out in the US conclude that “estimates imply that the benefits of air conditioning in schools probably outweigh the costs […] especially given the climate change that is predicted for the future.
In other words, while Spain is on its way to being a branch of the Sahara desert, the educational system seems not to have found out.
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Images | Shubham Sharan