1 December 2023

Chronic. Examples of the consequences of climate change on our societies are numerous and concern various fields, but relatively few studies have analyzed the consequences on education and cognitive abilities. A Vietnamese economist, Tien Manh Vu, has however been able to show that the increase in temperatures has a significant negative impact on the results of students in mathematics tests (“Effects of heat on mathematics test performance in Vietnam”, Asian Economic Journal2022).

It thus confirms the results of previous studies, but remains one of the very first to focus on a developing country. However, the subject is particularly important for these countries which tend to be in the hottest regions, with a poor population more exposed to heat and having less means to reduce the individual consequences of global warming. It is also essential for Vietnam, which invests heavily in education.

The main mechanism determining individual performance is related to heat tolerance. In this case, the solving of mathematical problems depends on brain function located in an area of ​​the prefrontal cortex and neural circuits. In addition, high temperature would reduce cerebral blood flow, and therefore the efficiency of test performance.

300,000 students

Conducting this type of research poses several methodological problems and requires first-class data. The contribution of this article is to meet these two challenges. The author thus crosses the results of the mathematics tests of the entrance exams to Vietnamese universities in July 2009 with very precise data collected by an American meteorological agency. The geolocation of the latter makes it possible to link them to the places of examination and to nearly 300,000 students who have taken the test.

In addition, the author takes several methodological precautions to better measure the desired effect, and also recognizes certain limits of his study. Thus, the data are old, at a time when global warming was not felt as strongly as today.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers More intense and longer, heat waves lead to the loss of hundreds of billions of working hours

In fact, the article only makes it possible to compare the effects of heat at a given moment between regions experiencing different temperatures, but does not make it possible to directly measure the impact of the increase in temperatures in a given place: during the test period, in July 2009, temperatures averaged more than 28°C, compared to around 25.5°C between 1950 and 2009. Finally, the effect of humidity, which further increases the impact of heat.

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