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Climate-Proofing Education: How Antigua & Barbuda is Tackling Rising Temperatures

To combat the intense heat, numerous schools have resorted to using standing fans in classrooms. While the intention is to create a more bearable environment, this solution has its drawbacks

Below is an abridged version of this story. Find the full text at Climate-Proofing Education: How Antigua & Barbuda is Tackling Rising Temperatures – Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network (cijn.org)

Thousands of students who have headed back to school in Antigua and Barbuda since September, are being impacted by severe heat as global temperatures continue to rise. The heat is putting young learners in an environment that is not only uncomfortable, but it affects the quality of education they receive.

“If they cannot stay focused, they’re not getting that information that is communicated. It affects their ability to perhaps even recall or even do the exams sufficiently because the body is already under pressure to get rid of that heat.” Climatologist, Orvin Paige

According to Paige, a senior climatologist employed by the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Services, the month of July marked consistently high temperatures, with maximums hovering around 32 degrees Celsius (approximately 90 degrees Fahrenheit) across most weather stations in the country. The situation escalates as the school year commences in September. “This is where it gets rather crucial between late July and November when we’re dealing with higher relative humidities. If the winds become very light, it could be very catastrophic for our children,” he remarked.

With just two months left until the end of 2023, local climatologists have determined this year to be the hottest on record for the twin-island. As of September 2023, Earth experienced its warmest September on record, with the global average temperature soaring to 61.6 degrees Fahrenheit, a staggering 2.59 degrees higher than the 20th-century average for September, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This rise in global temperatures is consistent with a worrying trend of increasing heat that has persisted for several years.

While the rise in global temperatures is well-documented, there remains a critical gap in understanding how these conditions impact students in the classroom in Antigua and Barbuda. The absence of specific data on classroom temperatures and their impact on learning has made it challenging to assess the full extent of the problem and how to solve it.

Paige noted, “There is somewhat insufficient data to analyze how specifically a hot classroom affects learning because we do not have a parallel data set to see if students are learning in a cooler environment and how the performances would actually compare. That is perhaps an area for further inquiry and for further discussion even as a project or a pilot.”

While conventional academic performance indicators may not yet exhibit a significant decline due to the heat, Director of Education, Clare Browne emphasizes the importance of recognizing that students and teachers are being affected. “Though we might not have measured or seen in the student’s academic performance of recent times, any real indicator that the academics would have been affected, we are mindful that it has been affected,” he said.

TEACHERS AND STUDENTS STRUGGLE IN HOT CLASSROOMS

Teachers, already grappling with the challenges of adapting to new teaching methods in a post-pandemic world, are now facing additional hurdles due to the scorching heat. Some educators have reported that their ability to complete lessons as planned has been severely affected. Extended exposure to high temperatures in classrooms has left both students and teachers feeling drained and less productive.

Robyn Joseph-Nathaniel, First Vice President of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers, shared her perspective: “Sometimes even as teachers, you become restless because you are hot as well, and it’s weird because you want to achieve your objectives in the lesson, but you also understand that the children are uncomfortable. When they are uncomfortable, it makes it very difficult for instruction to happen effectively. They’re going to miss gaps. They’re going to miss what is being said because you’re hot.”

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Teachers say the children are not concentrating and have become restless on hotter days. Complaints from teachers suggest that heat waves have a noticeable impact on students’ classroom engagement, participation, and overall learning. 

Physical Education classes have been especially affected by the oppressive heat, with teachers finding it increasingly difficult to conduct outdoor activities.

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