A panel of air quality experts reflects on what the classrooms of the future will look like

Poor air quality can affect learning. Sometimes it is related to allergies, colds or tiredness. Until now it has been an unknown risk, but it is an issue that researchers have been working on for a long time and that now, with the covid pandemic, has emerged as a priority issue in learning environments.

The webinar on aerosols in educational spaces, organised by the director of the Felipe Segovia Chair of Innovation for Learning at Camilo José Cela University, Stephen Heppell, also featured the participation of Ricardo Díaz, General Director of Universities and Higher Artistic Education of the Madrid Region, dean of the College of Chemists of Madrid and Professor of Engineering at UDIMA; Philomena M. Bluyssen, Professor of Indoor Environment at Delft University of Technology in Holland, Jarmo Kesanto; Director of KSG Health Ltd UK and Brendon Shaw and Neil Lyons from Azura Engineering, UK.

From a scientific point of view, the speakers explained the conclusions of the most recent research on airborne aerosol transmission of covid-19, the optimal conditions for its transmission and what we know today on how to limit its expansion.

The debate not only focused on the short-term measures that, according to these experts, should be taken in indoor spaces such as classrooms or offices, but in their opinion, “this crisis has brought attention to the quality of the air we inhale, and with this, also other air pollutants and how they affect us”, so “we should not only take into account ventilation, but also how we must ventilate in certain situations, in interior spaces that contain many people for long periods of time. It is clear that opening the window is not an infallible way to ventilate, mixed solutions of systems are needed, including natural and mechanical flexible options depending on each moment”.

The importance of measuring air quality

The experts agreed that classrooms should have air quality measurement devices to try to determine how air flows are moving. These must monitor different areas, they cannot be put in a place where the air is stagnant, the entire space must be covered. “Of course, where you sit in class is important,” Stephen Heppell stressed.

In addition, there is already scientific evidence on how they should be placed in the classroom. “We have recently done some studies and it depends on the ventilation regime of the room, we have discovered that in order not to disturb the children it is better to put it on a wall on the other side of the window, at 1.1 and 1.6 meters, and to be possible in a ventilated area, close to the teacher’s area. We have seen CO2 concentrations, with a difference of up to 300 pp between the lowest and highest values. In itself CO2 is not dangerous, but at least in environments such as a classroom, it is not recommended that the sensors be close to a person”, explained Philomena.

The experts said they expected there to be autonomous devices to filter the air in enclosed spaces, possibly by law, something that would be a long-term solution. In the case of educational spaces, spaces such as dining rooms, coffee areas, libraries or corridors should be prioritised. Experts also suggested that heating and air conditioning systems could not only raise or lower the temperature but also improve air quality in buildings with filtration.