For healthier schools with better environment: Discussing the WHO Parameters guidelines


Within the framework of engaging schools in applying the most recent and highest standards in the fields of environment, health and sanitation, the Department of Environmental Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) of the American University of Beirut (AUB), organized the second workshop for the “AUB Collaborating School Network for a Healthy Environment" on March 29, 2018 at AUB' Continuing Education Center.

Representatives from more than 20 schools from all over Lebanon attended the workshop entitled “Physical School Environment Parameters: Guidelines, Levels, and Values" and discussed the World Health Organization (WHO) Physical School Environment Parameters Guideline that were recently adopted by the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.

In her opening statement, Dr. Rima Habib, chair of the Environmental Health Department, asserted the importance of the network as an actor of change in the Lebanese community.

In her turn, Dr. Mey Jurdi, Professor of Environmental Health, explained for the participants the physical school environment parameters that she developed in 2012 with the support of the WHO Lebanon Country Office. The guideline, adopted by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and the Ministry of Public Health, aims to enhance the mental and physical health of the students in the schools.

“A safe and healthy physical environment requires a good location and safe buildings; protection from excessive noise; natural light; clean indoor air and water; a healthy outdoor environment; and healthy school-related activities," said Dr. Jurdi. “Schools' facilities must be developed so that physically challenged students are involved with others in the same classrooms, not in separate ones", she added.

Dr. Jurdi stressed the need to improve the facilities in private and public schools so that they meet the standards specified in the guideline. The guideline includes parameters for the school site; size; fence; students' drop off and loading areas; classrooms; acoustics; playgrounds and gymnasiums; general safety measures; water supply and safety; food safety and nutrition; sanitation; solid waste management; housekeeping; types of certified personnel; medical care systems; and service for physically challenged students.

Furthermore, Rola Ajib, lab coordinator in the Environmental Health Department, shared practical and useful information with the participants on how to assess residual chlorine levels in water supplies.

A survey was conducted at the end of the workshop in order to identify the key environmental threats to health within the school and community. Topics of upcoming workshops and activities will be chosen based on the survey results.

Additionally, and as per the request of the participants, Dr. Habib stated that future workshops will be organized with the aim of giving school representatives detailed information on the Environmental Health major offered by FHS, in addition to the scholarships options, and job opportunities in the field.

As children spend a significant proportion of time in school buildings and on school grounds, it is vital that these environments are as safe as possible. Studies have shown that student achievement can be affected either positively or negatively by the school environment. Ideally, the assessment of the school physical environment shall lead to the formulation of suitable policies and protocols to ensure food protection, sanitation, safe water supply, healthy air quality, good lighting, safe playgrounds, violence prevention, and emergency response, among other issues that relate to the physical environment of schools.

The “AUB Collaborating School Network for a Health Environment" initiative was launched by the Department of Environmental Health in November 2017. During the first workshop​, professors and instructors from the Department addressed the urgent need to prepare a workforce with expertise in the environmental health field, introducing participants to the different academic and practical components of the Environmental Health program at FHS, as well as the diverse career opportunities that await graduates in this field.​​