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How Pollution Impacts Access to Quality Education

Written by Melody Triumph
How pollution impacts education is an intersection that is becoming more important for us at the Foundation as we continue to work in countries experiencing both high poverty and high pollution levels. In our work, we are learning more about how much the two impact each other – and how simple strategies to improve the environment can have a quick and positive effect on children’s education.
How does pollution affect learning?
Pollutants in the air can trigger negative physical reactions for children. Whether this be allergies, asthma or risk of disease and infection, children have to manage physiological reactions to pollutants and its effects on their health. Often in these environments, children are less able to focus on learning and can become easily distracted.
Data shows that in countries such as the US and the UK, pollution has been having a negative impact on children’s health and learning prospects. In 2019, Brookings found that ‘exposure to pollutants in schools has significant, negative impacts on test scores and on absenteeism’. Research carried out by Queen Mary University of London with Unicef, estimated that 4.5 million children grow up in areas with unsafe air pollution and again, this is more likely to happen to children who live in ‘deprived communities – which tend to be exposed to higher levels of pollution.’
In 2020, it was reported that regions such as Mexico received 75% of the US’s plastic waste export. In their report, UNEP showed that Latin America and the Caribbean creates around 10% of global waste. And despite progress in improving this, ‘it is  alarming that more than 40 million people still lack access to a basic collection service, and that about a third of all waste generated […] ends up in open dumps, thus causing serious impacts on health and the environment.’ According to UNEP, this can lead to negatively affecting children’s wellbeing, livelihood and food security. 
In the communities that we work with, educational inequality is compounded by pollution and poor environmental conditions. We also know that pollution levels are the highest where there is significant poverty and therefore, populations who have less access to education. A polluted learning environment does not give children enough space to become ready to learn. They are already preoccupied with the harm that is around them, to the point they may not have the physical, mental and emotional capacity to access the resources that are being offered to them. 
Environmental Education at the Breteau Foundation
Having worked in diverse and remote learning settings where we have seen the negative impacts of pollution on learning, we are increasingly developing our environmental education content and aim to improve children’s knowledge of their environment and how to take care of it. We want to continue developing independent learners, who understand the importance of  reducing pollution and how this impacts them, their learning and the world around them.
Environmental workshops are a key part of the Breteau Foundation’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics subjects (STEAM) programme. The Environmental workshop encourages children to think of practical and sustainable solutions to protect their local environment. With this knowledge, children are actively interacting with their environments and feel empowered to change what they see around them. It cultivates empathy and a sense of responsibility to take care of their local environment.
Fight Against Plastic
In June 2023, the Breteau Foundation in partnership with the popular children’s TV animation Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, will release a feature episode that educates children on the problems with plastic pollution and how they can be a part of the solution to fight it. To accompany the episode, the Breteau Foundation has developed 5 modules for teachers with lesson plans, learning materials and educational workshops that will empower children to develop their own solutions to reduce plastic pollution and become ‘changemakers’ in their own environments.
Active Young Changemakers!
Finally, we want to remind you that with knowledge and education, children, like Melati Wijsen, can make a deep, sustainable and positive impact on their communities. 
Since the age of 12, Melati has been involved with the fight to ban the single-use plastic that was polluting her home. 
Melati’s initial reason for taking action was simple. Her love for the environment. Melati had grown up engaging positively with her environment and the natural world, and pollution of single-use plastic was destroying it. She highlights the integral role community led initiatives and people-power have on making significant and sustainable changes to the environment. After six years of working tirelessly, with community support and collaboration with the government, she and her sister were able to get single-use plastic banned in Bali in 2019.
Through our Plastic Changemakers Campaign, we want to encourage children all over the world to take action like Melati has. To access the ‘Action’ episode and our Plastic Changemakers Education Pack, pre-register online here
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Register below to access the action Episode & Plastic Changemaker Education pack

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What happens after you’ve signed up?

Your school profile activated

You use the FREE ready-made sources

You are awarded Plastic Clever Status and recieve a certificate,
Amy and Ella’s book, a poster, window sticker and some other goodies

You work through three simple steps with your pupils

You share your work in your profile