In addition to destroying livestock, crops, and homes (essentially people’s sources of income and well-being), hurricanes are especially cruel to education. They damage and destroy school infrastructure, equipment and learning materials, and the resulting floods and landslides prevent teachers and students from accessing schools. After hurricanes, schools are often used as shelters, further disrupting classes.
Climate change in most regions is causing people to experience prolonged extremes of long hot and cold spells. Students inevitably suffer from these conditions and have to modify their indoor air through heating or cooling to function normally.
The problem is that most students in underserved areas do not have the luxury of modifying their environment and may have to endure very cold or very hot temperatures that affect their studies in various ways. This article will touch lightly on some of the ways climate change affects students, although you can even solicit many great writers online and ask them to write my dissertation on the same topic.
Climate change is causing more frequent and severe weather events, and 2022 is no exception. As an example, in 2020, the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record, there were 30 named storms, including 14 hurricanes, of which 7 became major hurricanes. Storms never come alone; that same year they coincided with the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which left 170 million students without one of every two effective days of classes in more than two years in the region. The impact on attendance, and thus learning achievement, is unprecedented, as is the rise in dropout rates. The loss is estimated to be equivalent to 1.5 years of learning.
Latin America and the Caribbean are also expected to continue to witness phenomena related to slow climate change, such as increases in surface and ocean temperatures, and in the frequency and intensity of heat waves and droughts. However, decision-makers are unaware of the impact of extreme heat on children’s development from the time they are in the womb and through their school years, on their ability to focus in class, and on their general well-being. All of this means that completing secondary education, a key determinant of life chances, has become more difficult.
Weather conditions can affect school results in several different ways. In the most direct sense, extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones can destroy or damage school buildings, or schools can be used to house people who have been displaced from their homes. This leaves children temporarily unable to attend school, and some children may never return to school. Farming households experiencing income and food security losses caused by droughts or heat waves may not have enough money to pay school fees or may take their children out of school to help earn additional income.
Extreme weather events are expected to increase in frequency and intensity, even if COP26 succeeds in charting a path to limit global warming to 1.5°C. And we know that low-income countries and younger generations will be hit the hardest.
Since 2001, the Young Lives study has followed the lives of 12,000 children in poor communities in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Vietnam. Research shows that extreme weather events experienced during childhood are having a significantly uneven impact on the poorest and most vulnerable groups.
By the age of 15, many children in our study had already experienced at least one extreme weather event, such as a drought or flood. In Ethiopia, it was more than half of our sample (54%), 44% in India, and about a third in Vietnam (34%) and Peru (30%).
And children living in the poorest households have been significantly more affected; In Ethiopia, an alarming 81% of children in our poorest households had experienced at least one extreme weather event, compared to just 22% in the least poor households. Similar trends can be seen in India (65% vs. 18%), Peru (63% vs 12%), and Vietnam (50% vs 17%).
During severe droughts, girls may miss school because they must travel long distances to collect water or may marry at a young age, which often coincides with school dropouts. In addition, entire families may migrate in search of food, water and employment, taking their children out of school.
Weather conditions can also affect school results in more indirect ways. The extreme weather experienced in the womb and during the first years of life can affect children’s education years later by determining birth outcomes as well as children’s health and nutrition. The prenatal period and the first years of life are when the brain develops most rapidly, so proper nutrition during this period is essential for the well-being of children. Studies find that both low birth weight and malnutrition in early childhood are associated with poorer cognitive development and lower educational attainment later in life.
At the same time, we must consider that the school must be more than a place of learning: it must provide a space for students to develop social and emotional connections, as highlighted in the recently published International Assessment of Science and Education Evidence-Based (ISEE). However, although this UNESCO report states that climate change has the potential to weaken social cohesion and interaction, it does not clearly identify how. In light of this, it is crucial that we all agree that without school infrastructure or physical access to schools, students have fewer opportunities to create the relationships through which they can flourish.
Related to the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Promoting Schools (EPS), appropriately promoted the notion that educational policy and programs should pay attention to the physical environment of the school. Surely, the EPS approach never really took off in Latin America and the Caribbean, despite the fact that in a high percentage of schools, access to the most basic needs, such as drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, remains being extremely limited.
Furthermore, although EPS provides a useful theoretical approach, its assumption is that there is a school infrastructure (albeit a basic one) in which a single teacher or a team of directors, staff and teachers can work to create a sense of community and empowerment. to bring about changes. But there is little sign that the region is even discussing how the future of schools is perceived in the current climate change emergency.
As in a war, as the region continues to struggle to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, roads, paths, and school facilities small and large will continue to be razed along with livelihoods and sources of income. After witnessing how governments in Latin America and the Caribbean had great difficulty adapting to change during the pandemic, for example neglecting to create other options for learning and socializing, how can we expect policymakers and decision-makers to imagine a different and viable future for schools that seriously addresses the climate change crisis unfolding before us?
Although schools face different obstacles in the region, climate change may represent the biggest of them, threatening the very foundations of what we think a school should look like, a building that is at the heart of a community committed to the new generations, the one in which parents want their children to be safe and happy. Indeed, one of the bravest acts of resistance in Latin America and the Caribbean will be to increasingly protect the right of students to physically remain in school.
Weather conditions can affect birth outcomes and infant health in a number of ways. Reduced agricultural production due to drought, heat, or flooding can negatively affect the nutrition of pregnant women or young children. Flooding in early life can cause diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases, which can lead to acute malnutrition.
Exposure to extreme heat during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester, can lead to preterm birth and low birth weight. Finally, experiencing a natural disaster can destroy a family’s home and sources of income, food, and clean water, creating stress and limiting the resources available to pregnant women and young children.
Exposure to extreme weather events like these in early life affects children during critical periods of development, potentially leaving them at an educational disadvantage compared to those who experienced more favorable weather conditions.
Without targeted action, the climate crisis is likely to further exacerbate inequalities, just as we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our recent COVID-19 phone survey shows that disrupted education and a widening digital divide have increased the risk that children and youth from poor and rural backgrounds will fall further behind or never return to education.
While our results show significant impacts on both girls and boys, the combined pressures of interrupted education and the tendency for households to resort to more traditional gender roles in times of stress have meant that girls and young women are vulnerable and have been particularly affected.
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