Researchers call for more investigations into possible links between greenspace and academic performance

Markevych, I., Feng, X., Astell-Burt, T., Standl, M., Sugiri, D., Schikowski, T., et al. (2019). Residential and school greenspace and academic performance: Evidence from the GINIplus and LISA longitudinal studies of German adolescents. Environmental Pollution, 245, 71-76. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2018.10.053

This longitudinal study examined the association between greenspace and academic performance of adolescent students in Germany. Several factors differentiate this study from other research investigating possible links between greenspace and academic outcomes. This study focused on individual grades versus percentage of students with high grades. This study also considered greenspace around both home and school and the combination of the two. Other related studies tended to focus on either home or school greenspace, versus greenspace in both settings. The longitudinal design of this study and the comparison of data from urban and rural communities are additional features differentiating this study from previous research on the topic.

Researchers accessed data from ten-year and fifteen-year follow-up assessments of two German birth cohorts, referred to as the GINIplus and LISA cohorts. These cohorts were limited to children with healthy full-term births. Data collected at the time of birth included information about family income, parental level of education, and urbanicity of residence. The ten-year and fifteen-year follow-up data included information about individual academic performance, as reflected in German and math grades. These grades were reported by the parents at the 10-year follow-up and by students at the 15-year follow-up. Additional data collected for the purposes of this study included residential and school greenspace in 500-meter and 1000-meter circular buffers around both home and school settings.  For students living in the urban community, data was also collected on the proportion of agricultural land, forest, and urban green space within the buffer zones. There were 1351 study participants in the urban community and 1078 in the rural community.

Results of the data analysis showed no evidence of an association between greenspace and grades for students in the rural area. For urban students, initial data analysis showed several statistically significant associations between greenspace and the German and math grades. With further analysis, however, these associations were found to be inconsistent.

The overall findings of this study show “no evidence of an association of higher greenspace at residence, school or combined with improved academic performance in German adolescents from the GINIplus and LISA longitudinal studies.” Several factors may help explain why the findings of this study are not consistent with other studies showing a positive association between nearby greenspace and academic performance. One factor relates to the population included in the study. This study was limited to German-speaking families; thus, most immigrant families were not included. Additionally, low-income families and families with low-education parents were more likely to be lost in follow-up and thus not included in this study.The authors also offer that nonsignificant findings may be the result of insufficient power to detect differences or choice of buffer sizes that were insensitive to the effect of greenness on academic performance.

Other research has indicated that more disadvantaged populations may receive greater benefits from increased greenspace exposure than more advantaged populations. Other research has also shown that people can concentrate better after spending time in nature. As attention restoration may stimulate learning abilities, it seems plausible that increased access to nature may have positive academic performance outcomes, especially for disadvantaged students. Further research on this topic is warranted.

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