Good air quality and excellent acoustics in school design are vital to the well-being of children and can help to maximise their learning opportunities according to a summit conference held to commemorate the 350th anniversary of construction materials company Gyproc.
Mazen Chouihna, facilities design officer for Abu Dhabi Education Council addressed the meeting alongside Paul Schwarz who is chairman of the Middle East Acoustics Society.
Both agreed that architects had a vital part to play in ensuring that designs allowed teachers to be heard easily and the air to be as free of pollutants as possible.
“Architects roles are key in ensuring the best learning environment is available,” said Schwarz. “They are the people who make the final decision and sell the idea to their clients.”
Health and well-being of pupils can be impacted by both sound and air the conference heard.
Chouihna said: “When it comes to air quality we have to take into account that children have a higher volume of breath to body weight and can have a weaker immune system than adults.
“But figures have shown that air quality indoors can be around two to five times lower than outdoors – and in extreme situations this figure can actually be 100 times worse.
He added that poor indoor air quality is the third highest cause of premature death across the globe according to figures from the World Health Authority – another statistic which makes air quality a vital area of concern.
Airborne pollutants known to be hazardous to health including methane, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. This pollution is intensified by warm weather, as evaporation enables pollutants to rise into the air.
Chouihna explained that indoor environments do not have as many plants to absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants and many do not have adequate ventilation to disburse pollution into the atmosphere, so it remains indoors and becomes concentrated.
The health effects of air pollution can include irritation of the eyes and sinuses. However, many of the pollutants in the air are known to cause cancer, and poor air quality can aggravate health conditions including lung disease and infections, asthma, lung cancer and heart disease.
The issue of poor acoustics can cause problems for children cognitively and in their behavior said Schwarz.
“Acoustic quality in classroom is an issue which has been pushed aside in this region – and it doesn’t matter about the fees charged by schools, this is right across the board. But if a child can only hear their teacher for 50 % of the time that means that they are actually losing half of their education,” he said. “So that really does need to change.”
Schwarz said that part of the problem was the hard surfaces employed in school design for walls and floors, because both need to be easily cleaned.
“Food and other mess is spilled on the floors and walls are constantly knocked and bumped into,” he said. “So ceilings have to be made as acoustically efficient as possible.”
The experts added that when schools are in the design stages classrooms need to be as far as possible from roads because of carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles and the noise generated by traffic.