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Sweltering Schools: Disastrous for Learning

Teacher talking to a student in a classroom

(World Health Organization) Imagine losing days or weeks of school because it’s simply too hot in the classroom. That’s the harsh reality for over 210 million children who faced scorching temperatures and school closures in just April and May. But a lack of official data likely hides an even bigger disruption caused by climate change.

Heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense, threatening the fundamental right to education for millions of vulnerable children, writes Diego Arguedaz Ortiz for Devex. Climate change impacts are rapidly eroding hard-won learning gains and widening education gaps between and within nations. With billions of children depending on a stable education system, governments need to act.

With 2.4 billion children estimated worldwide in 2023 and over 4 billion children projected to be born over the next 30 years, having an education system that can cope with heat, storms, and floods becomes a central issue for governments.

Education systems just recovering from the losses related to the COVID-19 lockdowns now have to consider high temperatures as a new risk, widening the education gap even further. Extreme heat is increasing on every continent due to the burning of fossil fuels and other human-made emissions and activities that cause climate change.

“This is disastrous for learning,” explains Shwetlena Sabarwal, a lead economist at the World Bank’s education team, which in May published a report on the impact of climate change on education.

“[I]t is telling that we were not able to find official data on how often schools are shutting down due to heat,” she says.

The lack of data led Devex to trawl through media reports and releases from international organizations to get a better idea of the number of children who have missed at least a day of school due to heat-related closures in April and May.

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