“After a full morning at work, would you choose to eat your lunch right beside a busy highway?”
Perhaps there would not be many takers for a seating arrangement like this, however, a recent study by Sveriges Radio (SR – Sweden’s public service broadcasting organisation) showed that over one in four of the school canteens it tested had peak sound levels that, noise-wise, could be compared to the levels experienced beside a busy highway (i.e. 75 – 80 dB). Using a sound level meter approved by the Swedish Work Environment Authority, SR measured noise at 71 school canteens around the country. The noisiest of them was Gylleskolan in Borlänge just to the north-west of Stockholm where monitoring showed a lowest sound level of 74 dB and a peak of 95 dB. Still, lunches rarely last more than an hour and the prime function of a canteen is to provide nourishment so how significant can it be? Well, after a full morning’s intensive teaching or learning, surely relaxation and sustenance are both required. Our bodies need fuel and our minds require some sort of break to support a productive afternoon!
Professor Kerstin Persson Waye of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine department of Sahlgrenska University Hospital (part of the University of Gothenburg) states: “The high noise levels we recorded in measurements at several of the country’s school canteens lead to pupils becoming tired and consequently, finding it more difficult to learn.” This applies particularly to groups such as children with impaired hearing, ADHD, autism and non-native speakers but of course, it is not only children who are affected by noisy school canteens. Noise can be so bad that canteen staff feel obliged to wear ear plugs which causes further communication problems. In a nutshell, when canteens are not acoustically treated they are far from optimal for either eating or relaxing.
For added food for thought and perhaps the icing on the cake, a Manchester University study shows that the perceived sweetness, saltiness and crunchiness of what we eat are affected by the level of background noise!
Finally for more info about this Swedish canteen article (in Swedish language only) and other interesting acoustic articles relating to educational environments please go to www.Ljudskolan.se