School teachers returning to classrooms across Barbados next week have our commiserations. They will be resuming work in hot, likely uncomfortable work environments.
Under normal circumstances, our various school plants are not the most relaxing places to work. However, the current temperatures that are turning most homes into hot boxes are likely to be creating similar conditions in our schools. Add 30 noisy, restless children to the mix and you have a situation that is not conducive to teaching or learning.
A report this week quoting Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Kenneth George suggests there was no reason to adjust work and school hours in response to the heatwave where temperatures have been as high as 35 degrees Celsius.
“We live in the tropics, we know that climate change will be an issue and very topical at this point, but I do not believe that we should move to the stage where we stop to consider changing our working hours or school hours because of the heat. Fortunately, many of our classrooms are open ventilated and the schools are expected to have water coolers and access to potable water on their premises,” Dr George was quoted as saying.
This is no consolation for professionals such as teachers or their charges, who are forced to endure these conditions.
The CMO has indicated that the Ministry will issue guidelines for schools, which should soon be published by the Ministry of Education.
However, there is a critical component of the situation that the Health Ministry and the employer of teachers – the Ministry of Education, have not addressed.
Barbados’ teaching service comprises mainly females, a significant number of whom are in their menopausal years or are pre-menopausal. Many of the symptoms associated with this time in a woman’s life, such as hot flashes could result in an extremely difficult environment for these female educators.
The island’s school plants are not endowed with air-conditioned rooms except for staff rooms and dedicated labs such as those designed for computers and possibly libraries to limit the deterioration of books stored there.
According to medical experts, for women going through menopause, the extreme heat and humidity we are currently experiencing and are expected to continue well into October and possibly November, can trigger hot flashes or make them far worse.
It is estimated that the majority of women between the ages of 45 and 60 experience hot flashes. These are sudden feelings of warmth across the face that spreads quickly over the upper body, increases the heart rate, and leaves the woman perspiring.
Some of the most common hot flash triggers include stress, hot environments, wearing tight clothing and caffeine. While women can make decisions about the type of clothing they will wear to make themselves comfortable and eliminate caffeinated drinks, the heat of classrooms might prove intolerable.
Those who may want to dismiss menopausal stress during these extremely hot conditions, should appreciate that menopause is a medical condition, and the symptoms are varied.
Furthermore, a recent report from Jamaica, has seen complaints coming from female and male teachers, who have gone so far as to bring their personal fans to the classrooms and have asked parent-teacher associations to raise funds to purchase cooling equipment in an effort to moderate the conditions.
Some teachers have also taken their classrooms from the buildings to under trees as a possible alternative.
We are forced to agree with the President of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners Dr Lynda Williams who has called for a national discussion on the matter among all stakeholders.
The present heat wave may simply be too much for education services to be successfully delivered in the current conditions unless some adjustments are made.`