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We know extreme heat impacts learning. So why don't all schools have air conditioning?

It’s been a ferocious summer in most parts of Australia. Every time I drop my kids off to school, and the forecast is for 38 or 40 degrees, I feel grateful that their classrooms have air conditioning. But not everyone is so lucky.

Around Australia, parents are busily fundraising to pay for air conditioning for their schools so their kids can learn in comfort. They’ve set themselves targets of $100,000, or even more.

Brooke Patterson is the president of the P&C at Benowa State School on the Gold Coast. She has two children at the school, in Year One and Year Four, and their classrooms aren’t air-conditioned.

“It’s difficult for them,” Patterson tells Mamamia. “They get sleepy, they get distracted. But I honestly feel as much for the teachers as for the students, if not more, because trying to keep kids on point and refreshed and focused when they’re in 30-degree heat is almost impossible.

“If I was doing my work in there, I would be going a lot slower.”

Kids feel the heat, too. Photo via iStock.

Last year, the school's P&C raised more than $100,000, with events such as a fun run. That money went to iPads and fans and fencing. This year, the P&C want to put the money into air conditioning.

In Queensland, the State Government only allows for air conditioning in schools north of Rockhampton and west of Roma. Patterson says air conditioning is a "big focus" for a lot of schools in their area. But she's aware that not all P&Cs are able to raise that much money.

"Other schools just don't really get much of a chance at all."

Even if parents are able to stump up the money for air conditioning, that isn't necessarily the end of it.

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"I've been told by our principal that if we put a $200,000 cheque on his table, he still would not be able to aircon the classrooms, because the school needs an electricity upgrade," Patterson says. "Our electricity infrastructure couldn't handle it. So that would be another $60,000."

Then on top of that, there's the operating costs. The Gold Coast Bulletin has reported that at least one school is asking parents to pay $80 per child, or $100 per family, as a "voluntary electricity levy", to cover the cost of running air conditioning in the classrooms.

Studies have shown that heat does have an impact on learning. Photo via iStock. 

There are plenty of people who will say that kids should just toughen up. After all, we all survived hot classrooms, didn't we? Patterson says she didn't have air conditioning when she went to school.

"But we advance," she adds. "We're 20 or 30 years on, and we're able to do this, so let's work out a way to do it."

It's not just about comfort. There's solid scientific evidence that proves hot classrooms do have an negative impact on learning. Studies have shown that reading comprehension diminishes from 28 degrees. Meanwhile, at 30 degrees, the brain goes into "survival mode".

It seems unfair that some kids, like mine, get air-conditioned classrooms where they can focus on learning, while other kids miss out.

Listen to the latest episode of This Glorious Mess: Over-Parenting, Lunchbox Politics and Fish Funerals.