A shady issue for secondary schools

25/02/2015

The NZDSi and Cancer Society are urging the Government to provide funding and support for shade provision in New Zealand secondary schools.

Dr Lousie Reiche, a member of the New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated (NZDSi), was overwhelmed by the responses she got to letters she wrote to various MPs and secondary schools in her local region of Palmerston North about the importance of shade provision at school to protect children from the sun.

One local school’s board of trustees incorporated shade requirements into their building and landscape policy plans, while feedback from parent representatives at another school stated they “would not allow their children to participate in swimming and athletics carnivals because they felt being in direct sunlight all day was unacceptable”.

“This means current lack of shade is restricting full education,” Dr Reiche says.

While the Cancer Society’s SunSmart campaign has been very effective in preschool, primary and some intermediate schools, the campaign has not been funded to roll out into the secondary sector.

Louise Sandford, Cancer Society’s national health promotion adviser says the Ministry of Education is looking at funding a research project to see what transparent materials provide the best UV protection to develop a prototype for use in schools.

Despite this, the Ministry currently has no specific requirements for school boards to provide canopies or shade cover above outdoor areas, stating that sun hazards can be managed in a number of ways, such as students wearing hats when outdoors, or gathering under trees.

“Most schools have little or inadequate shade and while teenagers are relatively un-sun-smart evidence suggests that if shade is available they will use it,” Sanford says. “We have the highest skin cancer rate in the world and the Ministry of Education should consider shade provision in all secondary schools.”

Victoria University’s School of Architecture in Wellington joined forces with the Cancer Society to develop appropriate sun protection guidelines for building shade structures in schools – stating that covered outdoor learning areas need to be UV protective and thermally comfortable.

Reiche says it is unacceptable for youth to be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer as a result of excessive sun exposure on school grounds. UV radiation is at its highest between September and April from 10am to 4pm – the hours when children are at school. Therefore having adequate shade to provide protection from the sun is vitally important.

As published in NZ Teacher, Vol 6, Issue 1, page 22-23

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