Can schools boost learning with plants?

Good indoor air quality in schools is essential, not only for the health of students, but also because it has a significant impact on learning capacity. However, many classrooms have poor ventilation, leading to excessive levels of various pollutants that can cause serious health problems. One solution would be to make schools greener by incorporating a larger number of specific plants that are known to be natural air filters. There have been a number of studies undertaken, a good place to start finding out more about them is to visit the Wikipedia page.

The importance of indoor air quality in schools

Indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to the quality of air in and around buildings, and is usually used in relation to how it affects people’s health and comfort. Thus, poor IAQ generally refers to air that has been contaminated with gases, such as carbon monoxide, or with particulates, mould, bacteria, or any other compound that could have a negative effect on a person’s health.

Various studies have determined that the physical environment in which a student learns plays an important role in their academic performance. Thus, poor air quality can cause a wide range of health issues, which can lead to poor concentration, absenteeism, and an overall reduction in students’ ability to learn.

Some of the health issues that have been linked to poor indoor air quality include respiratory infections, allergic reactions to organic contaminants, and asthma. Other issues include eye irritation, headaches, and Legionnaire’s Disease.

Teachers also suffer from the poor air quality

It’s not only students that suffer negative health impacts, though they bear the brunt of it since their lungs are still developing until they reach the age of 18. Teachers also experience the negative effects of air quality, which can lead to diminished productivity. Thus, teachers can also get sick and miss school, which means students aren’t getting the best level of education possible.

And the problem isn’t only indoors. Air quality around playgrounds is usually extremely poor, with air pollution caused by everything from pollen and mould to vehicle exhausts and rubbish fumes. Young children are most susceptible outdoors as their systems aren’t fully developed yet, so they can’t fight off common infections properly. Furthermore, since they are shorter, they are closer to the ground and to all the exhaust fumes cars give off.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that children are having trouble learning. Even if they don’t develop a clear health problem from the quality of the air, the discomfort alone of breathing in air pollution can severely diminish their ability to concentrate and learn new concepts.

Are Plants the Solution to Indoor Air Quality Problems in Schools?

Plants have long been touted as the solution to cleaner air. After all, they do produce half of the oxygen on the planet while absorbing carbon dioxide through their leaves—the other half is produced by phytoplankton in our oceans—so it’s natural to assume that plants would be the ideal solution. And they are.

A plant can act as a filter, reducing the level of contaminants in the air, especially volatile organic compounds, like xylene and benzene. Since they use carbon dioxide as part of their photosynthesis, they absorb it and thus reduce the levels of this gas as well. This is especially beneficial since excess levels of carbon dioxide are known to cause drowsiness, thereby negatively impacting a child’s ability to concentrate. Furthermore, some plants have the ability to reduce some types of mould and microbes.

The ideal combination would be the addition of plants along with an effective outdoor ventilation system. Studies show that children are able to complete their schoolwork faster and with greater accuracy as the rate of ventilation increases. Adults, such as teachers and other school staff, have been shown to also perform better as the level of ventilation increases.

Another study showed that children who studied in well-ventilated classrooms with better quality air generally get better scores on standardised mathematics and reading comprehension tests than children who are constantly exposed to poor air quality in their classrooms.

Outdoor air quality in the vicinity of schools, especially in playground areas, can also be improved with the help of plants. Planting trees is an excellent approach as they have a larger capacity to absorb contaminants and gases, and also have a higher output of oxygen, meaning they are better able to filter the air and provide the good air quality children need while they are developing.

Thus, it clearly makes sense for schools to make use of plants to provide cleaner air for children. Not only will their health improve, but it will improve their learning capacity. Furthermore, they are less likely to develop serious respiratory issues later on in life, which makes it practically imperative to improve air quality in schools. Additionally, improved academic performance will lead to a better life when they become adults, as they will have access to more opportunities.

Author C McDonald: I am a keen gardener and fan of all things outdoors which helps me to live an active life as possible. The other part of life is working in an office and I have long been interested in making office environments better for the workers. I like to put out my thoughts and ramblings on blogs to share what I have found out. Advice on this article was kindly donated by The Planteria Group

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