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Mould problems drive thousands of Finnish school children to temporary barracks

About nine percent of all pupils in Finnish schools study in temporary buildings because their schools are too small or under repair.

Lapsia väistötilan pihamaalla leikkimässä, Kokkola.
Children in a replacement school in Kokkola. Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

This autumn, 48,000 children in grades 1-9 started the new school year in temporary spaces as their official school buildings are under renovation or too small. This amounts to about nine percent of all pupils in basic education, according to data obtained by Yle.

Yle's web site (in Finnish) has a tool for checking how many students in each Finnish municipality are affected.

Most of the schools under renovation have been closed due to damp and mould problems which have led to poor air quality, causing breathing difficulties and respiratory illnesses.

According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), internal air quality has an effect on both children’s health and their academic success.

“Depending on the length of the exposure, children in schools with the worst indoor air quality may get marks as much as one grade lower on average than pupils in schools with the best indoor air,” says Ulla Haverinen-Shaughnessy from THL.

Riina Länsikallio from the Trade Union of Education in Finland (OAJ) agrees that pupils must be removed from schools with internal air problems. However moving can also be problematic, Länsikallio says.

“There is a risk that educational achievement declines as interim facilities usually include just the basic provisions. We have received feedback that mobile buildings often suffer from heating and ventilation problems.”

Maintenance neglected

According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, municipalities have neglected maintenance of school buildings.

“The amount of money municipalities invest in repairs is not sufficient to keep up with the pace of wear and tear,” says Ritva Kivi from the ministry.

Länsikallio from OAJ argues that the state should provide municipalities with financial incentives to repair the schools.

"The government should get more involved so that the schools can be renovated at a faster pace," Länsikallio says.

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