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The Education Ministry has issued new directives aimed at curbing classroom noise in kindergartens and schools. Dr. Orly Halpern, the ministry's educational audiology expert, says sample tests found class-noise levels of around 60 decibels, which makes it hard for children to follow what teachers are saying. The recommended background noise level is 35 to 40 decibels.

"The lessons are held in noisy classrooms and pupils could miss information, get tired and give up," Halpern said. "When a pupil gives up and doesn't listen to the teacher his studies suffer, and this could disturb those around him as well. So it's vital to improve the classroom's acoustic environment."

The directives issued last month recommend that loud background music not be played, and for music to be turned off when teachers address children. The volume of schools' loudspeaker systems would be turned down both inside and outside the school, and air conditioners would be maintained properly to reduce their noise. Air conditioners also would not be placed above the blackboard.

Students are also encouraged to refrain from dragging chairs and desks during class. In addition, music, television and computer "corners" would be moved away from the classroom center.

The regulations also recommend putting insulation strips on windows and doors to reduce slamming sounds, and to reduce noise from outside and to keep doors opening to the corridor and windows to the courtyard closed.

The directives recommend that schools put special-needs classrooms in a quiet part of the school, and not to hold private lessons for pupils with learning difficulties in the corridor.

"The kindergarten is naturally noisier than a school. On some days I finish work without a voice," says a kindergarten teacher from Tel Aviv. "I have to overcome all the shouts and the noise around me to make the children hear me. It's hard not only physically, but emotionally."

It is especially important to reduce the background noise in kindergartens and lower elementary school grades, Halpern says.

Children at these ages find it very difficult to follow a speaking voice in a noisy environment, unlike adults who have knowledge that enables them to complete words and sentences they miss because of noise. This ability is developed only around the age of 15, Halpern says.