Classroom ventilation and the availability of a CO2 meter at school: these are the themes at the start of the new school year in these corona times.
Loosening of the corona measures
Last Tuesday there was good news. The corona measures in schools are being loosened (except in Brussels). Everyone back in school full-time, no more mouth masks during lessons, … We are one step closer to the pre-COVID era.
Nevertheless, the coronavirus has not been defeated yet. We must remain vigilant, especially at the start of the new school year. Because:
- • many people have been on holiday abroad. Often in regions where the vaccination level is much lower than in Belgium. With all risks entailed.
- • the vaccination coverage rate among 12 to 17 year-olds is currently around 70%. Children in primary education have not yet been vaccinated at all.
- • the protection only takes effect a few weeks after vaccination. Many young people will therefore only be protected in the course of September.
Federal Minister of Public Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) therefore raises a warning finger. “It is good and important that schools open full time (…). But then there have to be some safety measures, such as wearing mouth masks where necessary and taking into account contamination, vaccination and also ventilation, which is very important.”
Ventilation at school is important
‘Ventilation’, the word is out. Constantly changing the air in a building is very important anyway. There is data showing that learning performance improves by 15% when classrooms are properly ventilated.
But what about the ventilation at our school buildings?
The situation is not very wel, according to various studies. A survey among 1500 education employees in the Netherlands earlier this summer showed that only 30% of them think that the ventilation in their school is in order.
Flanders certainly does not score better on this matter, on the contrary. Let’s take a look at how things were before the corona crisis. The Schoolgebouwenmonitor* 2018-2019 shows that mechanical ventilation then only occurred in 15% of Flemish school buildings. On the factor ‘ventilation of classrooms’, the schools scored even worse than five years earlier. With regard to the ‘energy efficiency measures’, a ‘mechanical ventilation system without heat recuperation’ with 15% is one of the lowest scoring measures.
Outdated school buildings
Since then, a lot of attention has been paid to investments in school infrastructure, including in the Flemish Government’s Recovery Plan ‘Vlaamse Veerkracht’. But nowhere does it specifically talk about ventilation.
When constructing new school buildings, attention is of course paid to ventilation. After all, standards have to be met. This is also the case with renovations. But in 2018-2019, only 9% of Flemish school buildings were five years old or younger. In contrast, 49% date from before 1970. Half of our school buildings therefore date from a period when attention was paid at most to ventilation system type A, popularly known as ‘the window’.
Moreover, the problem is much broader than just a lack of ventilation. “Ventilation is important, but it is only one problem. It’s about the whole indoor climate. You don’t solve everything with ventilation”, says the Dutch union CNV Onderwijs.
CO2 meter at school combined with good ventilation
In order to measure the quality of indoor air, measuring equipment is needed. A CO2 meter, for example. In Belgium, this is compulsory in pubs, restaurants and hotels and in fitness centres. But not in schools, where there are often twenty or more children sitting together in one room for long periods of time.
Although various organisations had urged for the CO2 meter to be made compulsory in schools, Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts (N-VA) decided to encourage its installation but not make it compulsory.
The Flemish government has developed a script with measures. It is up to the school’s prevention advisor to apply these and to monitor the indoor climate in the classrooms. “But that’s exactly where the problem lies. Many schools do not have enough hours for the prevention advisor. There is too little support in that area”, said the opposition during a debate in the Flemish Parliament earlier this year.
A recent survey by Teacher Tapp – an app for teaching staff – confirms this statement. In 60% of the schools there is “no CO2 meter available and there are no plans to provide one”. When asked whether improvements had been made to the ventilation system in the past year – after the outbreak of the corona pandemic, that is – only 15.5% answered “yes”.
Ventilation and CO2 meter at school: now what?
On the brink of the new school year, these figures are food for thought. Especially now that the coronavirus has been around in our country for almost one and a half years. What can schools do to welcome their pupils in a healthy environment? Calling in a specialist is certainly a good tip. A specialist like Maintenance Masters for instance.
This division of Multi Masters Group is specialised in the maintenance and management of the technical installations of your buildings. We can answer all your questions about ventilation, the importance of a CO2 meter, the placement and follow-up of the CO2 meter, the maintenance of the ventilation system and much more.
(*) ‘Schoolgebouwenmonitor’ (or The School Buildings Monitor) is a large-scale survey that AGION (Agentschap voor Infrastructuur in het Onderwijs , Agency for Infrastructure in Education) carries out every five years among all educational institutions in Flanders (except for higher education), across all networks.