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Study: Climate Change Could Undermine Children’s Education and Development in Tropics

By Maryland Today Staff

A new study by a University of Maryland researcher published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that exposure to extreme heat and precipitation in prenatal and early childhood years in countries of the global tropics could make it harder for children to attain secondary school education.

University of Maryland researcher Heather Randell, lead author who conducted the synthesis study as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, and co-author Clark Gray, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that climatic conditions affect education attainment adversely in multiple ways.

In Southeast Asia, which historically has high heat and humidity, exposure to higher-than-average temperatures during prenatal and early childhood has a harmful effect on schooling and is associated with fewer years of attending school. In West and Central Africa, and Southeast Asia, greater rainfall in early life is associated with higher levels of education. In Central America and the Caribbean, children who experienced more than typical rainfall had the lowest predicted education.

Surprisingly, children from the most educated households were not cushioned from the climate effects, and they experienced the greatest penalties when they felt hotter and drier conditions in early life.

In the study, Randell and Gray investigated the links between extreme temperature and precipitation in early life and educational attainment in 29 countries in the global tropics. The research has implications for determining vulnerability to climate change and development trajectories.

“If climate change undermines educational attainment, this may have a compounding effect on underdevelopment that over time magnifies the direct impacts of climate change,” the authors write. “As the effects of climate change intensify, children in the tropics will face additional barriers to education.”

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