School Winter Break Proposed by DOE

The proposal is meant to provide a short-term fix to Tehran’s pollution problem and help protect schoolchildren from the adverse impacts of poor air quality
Vulnerable groups are especially at risk in winter when temperature inversion traps air pollutants in Tehran’s atmosphere. (Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)Vulnerable groups are especially at risk in winter when temperature inversion traps air pollutants in Tehran’s atmosphere. (Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

The Department of Environment has proposed to the Ministry of Education to close Tehran’s schools for two weeks in winter to curb air pollution.

Temperature inversion is a weather phenomenon that occurs in winter and is caused by cold air underlining warm air at higher altitude, essentially acting as a cap and trapping air pollutants in the city, which leads to heavy smog.

Expressing concern over students’ health conditions, Massoumeh Ebtekar, the head of DOE, said closing schools when air pollution peaks from late autumn to early winter—when there is a palpable drop in temperature—can help protect schoolchildren, which are classified as vulnerable by health experts, from the impact of air pollution, ISNA reported.

“However, closing down schools for so long requires careful planning and inter-sectoral cooperation,” she said.

The ministry, however, is not completely sold on the plan. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Education Minister Ali Asghar Fani said “the sheer amount of ambiguities” make planning the winter break very difficult.

“We don’t know exactly when temperature inversion occurs, so we can’t schedule the winter break,” he said.

Nevertheless, the minister emphasized that students’ health takes priority over all else, “therefore, we’ll work with the DOE to figure something out”.

Air pollution in one of the world’s smoggiest capitals does not discriminate among social classes. For more than six months out of the year, Tehran’s 12 million residents inhale a deadly mix of particulate matters, asbestos, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and partially unburned hydrocarbons.

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Substandard vehicles are major contributors to Tehran’s air pollution, while industrial units in and around the city exacerbate the problem.

Iranian automakers have been pressured by the government and the DOE to produce Euro 4-compliant vehicles to improve the quality of cars that ply the streets of the capital city, while DOE has doubled its oversight of industrial activities.

Critics of the scheme, most of whom are members of Tehran City Council, say it will not help reduce air pollution. However, supporters say it could be an effective short-term solution, not to mention the health benefits for vulnerable groups.

“About 75% of Tehran’s air pollution are caused by cars, so any plan that helps reduce the numbers of cars on the streets can improve air quality,” Mohammad Darvish, director of DOE’s Public Engagement Office, told Jamejam Online.

Darvish said the plan is not meant to be a permanent solution, but a short-term fix until a comprehensive solution is found.

“Besides, schools in most countries have two-week winter breaks, which helps improve the quality of education,” he added.