Too much noise in the classroom!

The classrooms in Québec schools are so loud that children have difficulty understanding their teachers. “It is especially alarming in the lowest grades, from kindergarten to grade three,” notes audiologist Michel Picard who, with his team at Université de Montréal, has ventured out to a number of schools to measure ambient noise in the classrooms.

The preliminary results of a sampling done in the spring of 2002 in three schools on Montréal's south shore demonstrate that the noise is even more overwhelming than in schools that were part of studies elsewhere in Canada and the United States. In a region like Greater Montréal, from 30% to 45% of the primary schools have been swamped by urban development,” Mr. Picard notes. This means that these schools are now located in places where noise pollution exceeds the acceptable noise level established by the World Health Organization, 55 decibels.

“ In some cases, the ambient noise is 5 decibels louder than the human voice. The children have to make a tremendous effort to grasp the sounds before they can concentrate on the meaning of the words. The learning process suffers.” Some schoolchildren took advantage of the researchers' visit to testify to their plight. We should be worried when young people, who are accustomed to loud music and Walkmen, complain about classroom noise and tell us: “Please, do something, we can't hear our teachers!”

There are two sources of noise, explains the audiologist: noise produced by whispering and the furniture in the rooms, and noise that comes from outside the school. Teachers have a habit of opening the windows to let in the fresh air from the first nice days of the spring until the fall period. “We calculated that the school windows were open for four months during the school year. We aren't against this, naturally. But we noted that the noise becomes a lot louder, which is a problem. Are we prepared, as a society, to sacrifice four months of ideal learning conditions in a school year that is already short? The answer is obvious.”

A few recently built schools have air-conditioning systems that eliminate the need to open the windows. But these systems, which are poorly maintained, of uneven quality, and sometimes old, are often very loud. One of them produced a 40 decibel background noise, just 15 decibels below the human voice. In the study done by Mr. Picard, a school in Saint-Hubert proved to be especially loud. This school is located less than two kilometres from a municipal garage, so that heavy vehicles are always coming and going on a road that passes about ten metres from the building. “The irony is that this garage was built long after the school; so it was obvious that the noise would bother the children.”

Researcher: Michel Picard
Telephone: (514) 343-7617
Funding: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network


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