Over 1,800 public primary schools in India’s capital closed on 5 November for the first time ever to protect students from exposure to dangerous levels of air pollution, affecting more than a million children.
A thick smog had settled over Delhi, a combination of smoke from burning crops in surrounding agricultural states, fireworks from the Hindu festival of Diwali, dust, and vehicle emissions. Levels of the most dangerous particles, called PM 2.5, reached 600 micrograms per cubic meter in different parts of the city, according to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee. Sustained exposure to that concentration of PM 2.5 is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day, said Sarath Guttikunda, the director of Urban Emissions, an independent research group. “Keeping children at home reduces their level of activity and lessens their exposure to air pollution, especially in areas where vehicle emissions are at their highest,” he said.
Teachers and parents said the effects on children were visible, and “widespread coughing” among students and education staff was reported, according to the New York Times.
EI: Health affects learning
“EI affiliates in India have expressed their grave concern with the health risks for students and teachers this situation causes,” Education International’s General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said. ”There is a growing body of evidence that the state of health affects learning and success at school, and thus governments must use all possible tools at their disposal to curb emissions and pollution”, he added.