It’s been a long-established fact that the environment significantly affects the performance of students: the diet, living conditions, economic status, and quality of sleep are among the factors that are known to influence their achievement.
Thing is, the majority of studies concentrate only on the above factors; there is yet another factor that greatly influences a student’s achievement that was hitherto not given the attention it should: classroom temperatures.
With that in mind, do warmer temperatures affect the way students learn and perform in school? Let’s find out.
Hotter temperatures in the classroom are not conducive to learning
In a study co-authored by Harvard Associate Professor Joshua Goodman (1), released through the National Bureau of Economic Research, it was found that high school students perform worse on their SAT preparatory exams (the PSAT) – and that hotter school days can reduce the effect of cognitive ability and learn for them.
Impaired learning due to hotter temperatures can have far-ranging consequences that could immensely impact their collective futures as far as their success and their expected economic contributions go.
Furthermore, the same study revealed that hotter temperatures impact black or Hispanic students more than their white counterparts – this is largely due to the fact that white students are by and large more likely to live in climates that are more conducive to learning.
What this means is that the impact of warm temperatures on student performance is that its negative effect on learning is amplified and is more pronounced for non-white students.
According to the same study, researchers have found that there is a widespread lack of air conditioning particularly in schools that are located in lower-income areas compared to their counterparts in more affluent areas that possess the same climates.
There is just not as much investment in air conditioning for schools in lower-income areas, as evidenced by the sharp decline in test scores that black and Hispanic students tend to experience due to hot temperatures.
Add the fact that mandatory temperatures are largely unheard of in most school districts plus the fact that air conditioning is not a requirement in most schools makes the problem worse. Air conditioning simply isn’t as much of a priority for them as it is seen as an unnecessary expense, so most schools would resort to short-term workarounds instead of long-term fixes.
Air conditioning – the solution
This consequently raised the question of how air conditioning can help prevent how warm temperatures stifle cognitive ability. Researchers found that air conditioning virtually minimizes most, if not all of the heat’s most harmful effects on learning.
According to the National Education Union, the largest union of educators, school support staff, and teaching assistants in the United Kingdom, the ideal classroom temperature should be at least 18ºC (2); this is why deploying an air conditioning system should be of paramount importance particularly for schools in hotter climates, regardless of the type of air conditioning units schools use.
The good thing about air conditioning is that it doesn’t just cool, it can also reduce humidity and, consequently, perceived temperature (3). Classrooms should, therefore, have an air conditioning unit installed in order to regulate temperature and humidity consistently throughout the day, in order to reduce the burden that the heat imposes on students.
True enough, it’s a concern that hasn’t escaped the eyes of policymakers in the country. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has committed to providing air conditioning units to all schools in the city by 2022. They seem to need more time than anticipated (4), but it’s another instance where the government has stepped in to address the issue of students dealing with sweltering heat in classrooms.
Tips on Staying Cool
There will still be schools that will not install air conditioning regardless – in this case, students will have to make do with the best of what’s around.
It is for the reason we have listed down some tips that students can follow to stay cool during the hottest days in the classroom:
- Hydrate. Make sure you have a bottle of water readily available to you at all times.
- Use ventilation. If the school cannot provide for adequate ventilation, consider bringing your own portable fan to use. PROTIP: Point a fan facing the window in order to disperse hot air from inside the classroom, which will circulate fresh air from outside the window.
- Study in well-lit, air-conditioned places. While many schools still do not have air conditioning installed in all classrooms, there will certainly be spaces that will have them (e.g., the library). Study there.
- Perform heat-reducing measures. Ask if the classroom windows can be tinted, or have blinds installed in order to prevent heat from entering.
- Wear comfortable clothing and footwear. Remember, light colors will keep you cooler than most others, and choosing apparel made from cotton will keep you more comfortable than synthetic materials.
- Bring your own mister. It’s really easy to make your own mister – just a fill a spray bottle with some water and spritz as necessary.