Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness, has said that the Ministry will be looking to plant more trees at schools, particularly those built near roadways, to reduce the harmful effects of dust and vehicle emissions, among other elements, on children.
Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness
He noted that some schools do not have sufficient trees, which are pivotal in reducing dust nuisance, “and so we will pursue this as an immediate thing that we can do.”
Minister Holness was speaking at a ceremony held on July 12 at the Cabinet Office in Kingston, where he and Health Minister, Hon. Rudyard Spencer, were presented with a video promoting the Kiwanis Environmental Health and Learning Initiative (KEHLI), which is aimed at improving the learning environment of urban schools.
The video, titled ‘Choking on Air’, which was viewed by the Ministers, highlighted some of the harmful effects of pollutants in the environment to school children in these areas.
Minister Holness pointed out that education and health are symbiotic, with the environment being the connection. “You need education to improve the environment and clearly, the environment improves the education of our children. So, we intend to pursue this project and incorporate it in our plan going forward,” the Minister said.
A project of the Kiwanis Club of New Kingston, KEHLI focuses on reducing environmental factors in schools that may lead to learning and developmental disorders. These factors include air quality, lighting, noise, toxic chemicals, sanitation and food safety.
Managing Director and Consulting Principal of Environmental Solutions Limited, which is collaborating on the project, Eleanor B. Jones, said environmental health issues are extremely important to education.
She noted that environmental triggers such as roadside dust, emissions from automobiles and industrial and commercial facilities, commercial and domestic chemicals, and poor ventilation, are of particular concern.
“If we really want to talk about development and we want to talk about giving the best to our children, we have to look at those issues that affect their ability to learn, and also the issue of absenteeism from school, because, if they are ill all the time and they can’t attend school, they can’t learn,” she pointed out.
Environmental Health Officer at Environmental Solutions, Rashidah Khan-Haqq informed that the project has been launched in eight schools so far and that sampling has been done in three of the schools. The air quality was monitored in selected schools that were considered to be in high risk environments.
She said the results have shown that roadways are significant pollutants to schools. She pointed out that the greening of schools, especially those that are near to roadways is very important because trees and grass act as cleansers.
“We have kids being exposed to very fine particulate matter and they are small enough…to get into the blood stream. Studies are showing that particulate matter inside of the bloodstream can have very serious adversarial effect, especially in kids,” she said.
Ms. Jones said sensitisation programmes have already started in the schools, noting that greening has started in a limited way, because some of the schools do not have a lot of space.
“But, you can do container planting …so that you put in place the vegetation, which will help to absorb some of these particulates. We also have to engage the children in how to manage their surroundings,” she said.