Student Performance Essay

Length: 5 pages Sources: 5 Subject: Teaching Type: Essay Paper: #83647409 Related Topics: Air Quality, Asthma, Malnutrition, Air Pollution
Excerpt from Essay :

IAQ and Education: How does Indoor Air Quality Impact Student Health and Performance?

Historically, student performance was thought to be the result of the direct factors the student encountered in the classroom environment. As long as the student was taught in an appropriate manner, the prevailing thought was that the student would be capable of learning. However, it became apparent that students could be exposed to the same curriculum under tremendously different circumstances with tremendously different results. Therefore, educators and the general public began to be aware of other factors that impacted student performance. These factors could be seemingly obvious, such as whether the student had literate parents at home to help with school work, or more subtle, such as childhood malnutrition and its deleterious impact on learning. One of the concerns that many modern educators and environmentalists are beginning to examine is the interrelationship between indoor air quality (IAQ) and student performance. It is well established that poor indoor air quality can impact health. However, the impact of poor air quality on school performance goes beyond the impact on health. Poor IAQ can impact school performance directly and indirectly in two major ways, first, by causing illness and second, by reducing the ability to performance specific mental tasks.

Poor IAQ is linked to illness in a wide variety of ways. While people think of lack of performance from illness due to sick leave, perhaps the most pervasive performance problem is actually linked to underperformance that is attributable to IAQ-related health problems. There are many symptoms of mild distress that are linked to IAQ; they may not amount to a diagnosable illness, but still result in people not feeling well. Symptoms may include lethargy, headaches, sore throats, itchy eyes, or similar mild symptoms that are not sufficient to warrant time away from work, but do interfere with performance. "When these types of symptoms are made worse by being in a building, they are referred to as 'sick building syndrome'" (EPA, 2000, p.2).

Some buildings cause health problems that are more severe and contribute to more than mild discomfort. Some of this is due to sensitivity in the child. For example, children with asthma may be especially sensitive to buildings with IAQ problems. Other times, the quality of the air in the building is so compromised that there are widespread illnesses in the school as a result. The potential illnesses include respiratory infections, allergic diseases from biological contaminants, asthma responses, reactions to chemicals, and also potential mold reactions (EPA, 2000, p.2). Asthma and allergy responses may seem limited to people who do not suffer from the problems, but they are actually a major educational barrier for people who experience them. "Asthma-related illness is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism, accounting for over 10 million missed school days per year" (EPA, 2000, p.2). If the illness rates in a school are high enough, a school may even have to close during the remediation process, in order to prevent exposing the staff, faculty, and students to further health risks.

In addition to being directly liked to health because poor air quality can have a direct impact on health, IAQ is indirectly linked to health because indoor air temperature and relative humidity are related to the airborne levels of molds and bacteria, which are related to the amount of illness. When air is not properly filtered, disease is more likely to spread. These are secondary diseases, many of which are highly communicable, like colds and flus, which may not be directly attributable to IAQ, but which find favorable growth conditions in the same environments that promote negative IAQ. Moreover, this means that schools face a greater risk of low IAQ in the immediate aftermath of a flood, typhoon, or other


Internationally, this has proven to be a health risk to students in the Philippines as they have returned to school after typhoons (Pittman, 2014, p.3). Domestically, this can be seen as a significant problem impacting students in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Not surprisingly, these problems are compounded in poor areas where the districts may lack sufficient funding for remediation that would fix the water damage and improve the air quality.

Of course, not everyone in a building is always impacted by sick building syndrome because people have different tolerance levels. However, in a school setting, it is important to keep in mind that every child is impacted when IAQ impacts any students or educators in the school environment. When educators are impacted, the students are not getting the full benefit of the teachers' expertise and education, and are therefore being cheated out of a portion of their school experience because they are not getting the best from those educators. If teachers are frequently absent, then students are taught by substitutes, which leads to a lack of consistency. If other students have high absent rates, then teachers may find it difficult to move on to new material, which means all of the class falls behind in the curriculum. The result is that everyone in the school is impacted by a sick building, not simply those who are physically susceptible to its impact.

That does not mean that a school with IAQ problems necessarily dooms children to poor performance. Just as with other educational challenges, the reality is that there are steps that educators and parents can take to help ameliorate the impact of an IAQ on a child's education. However, these steps should be a temporary measure while IAQ is being remediated, because long-term environmental stressors may be too difficult for a child to overcome. While many studies on sick building syndrome have focused on adults, the evidence suggests that even mild discomfort results in people reporting a perceived decline in their own performance levels, and there is no reason to expect that children would not also experience a similar decline in performance.

Of course, one cannot simply translate the office or industrial setting to the education environment. In the educational environment, poor IAQ is generally not caused by the same factors that lead to poor IAQ in industrial applications. Instead, poor IAQ in schools is often caused by factors that are easily remediated or prevented. The two commonly identified sources of air pollution in the educational setting are laboratories and art settings, though gyms and any other moisture-creating or moisture-laden activity may also provide an opportunity for bacteria or mold growth. Poor indoor air quality is generally going to be a result of failing to maintain a healthy indoor environment. Practices that can contribute to poor IAQ include: failure to control pollution sources like art supplies and laboratory activities; failure to control temperature and humidity; failure to control and moisture and clean up spills; failure to ventilate each classroom adequately; failure to adequately maintain or clean; and using excessive pesticides (EPA, 2000, p.1).

One of the problems contributing to poor IAQ in schools is the fact that there is very little regulation about air quality in the educational environment. According to Shaughnessy et al., "few states regulate the school indoor environment, and fewer still have minimum ventilation standards for schools" (2006, p.465). What this means is that students have few legal protections when it comes to air quality, and specifically few legal protections with regards to the appropriate mix of fresh air, even though adequate ventilation is well-established as a critical component for IAQ. In fact, many schools have been intentionally designed to have poor ventilation, although the goal was not to limit fresh air. Instead, energy saving cooling systems that were installed to increase efficiency had the unintended side-effect of reducing appropriate ventilation, and have been linked to sick building syndrome (Schneider, 2002, p.1). The rate of fresh air in many of these schools, especially older schools that were built during the 1970s energy crises, fails to comply with the fresh air recommendations required for adult workers, but those laws do not apply to school students.

Unfortunately, this lack of legal protection seems aimed at hitting the most vulnerable members in the population. Schools students are seen as highly at-risk for two reasons. First, school budgets are constantly under attacks, so that building are frequently built inexpensively and without adequate ventilation systems that would ensure appropriate IAQ. Furthermore, budgetary hits often target maintenance and janitorial personnel that would be responsible for the improvements that would help insure that the IAQ was maintained at healthy levels (Mendell and Heath, 2005, p.27). In addition, children often have a greater susceptibility to diseases and illnesses, especially communicable diseases because of developing immune systems (Mendell and Health, 2005, p, 27). Therefore, they may be even more vulnerable to complications from sick building syndrome than adults.

Clearly, indoor air quality has an impact on student performance and that impact goes beyond simply the health impact on students who are vulnerable to the illnesses linked to sick building syndrome. All…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Mendell, M.J., and G.A. Heath. "Do Indoor Pollutants and Thermal Conditions in Schools

Influence Student Performance? A critical review of the literature." Indoor Air 15.1 (2005): 27-52. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Pittman, Joyce. "Creating and Maintaining High Quality, Sustainable Healthy Learning

Environments for Students, Teachers, and Staff in Global Schools." Journal of Tourism and Hospitality 3.2 (2014): 1-7. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Cite this Document:

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