At a time when much of the world is returning to school, we continue to gather credible evidence about the link between children’s learning and vision. The findings reach beyond anecdotal, as recent research proves that there is a negative impact on educational outcomes in children because of poor eyesight. Additionally, new research reveals the link between good vision and a child reaching his or her development potential.
More than 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “We prefer seeing to everything else.” Still today, research suggests that sight is the most valued human sense. Equally important, sight is likely the sense enabling us to reach our full potential from childhood, as experts agree that up to 80% of learning is visual.
RESEARCH CALLS FOR EARLY INTERVENTION FOR CHILDREN’S VISION
Healthy vision is essential for school-aged children and must be a priority from early childhood. The recent UN Resolution on Vision (2021) recognizes that vision is an important contributor to child development, and it underscores the need for appropriate legal, social, and physical infrastructures to ensure eye health care is provided to every child.
Children with uncorrected poor vision are at a major disadvantage at school. Good vision is essential for a child’s educational attainment, learning, socio-emotional development, wellbeing, future success, and long-term health.
However, good vision is not granted to every child: barriers and stigmas still exist, creating long-term implications for individuals and societies. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, studies showed that lockdowns and virtual classrooms increased the use of screens (2020), affecting children's eyes and exacerbating visual risks such as myopia progression (2021) and a potential increase in myopia incidence (2021).
From a broader perspective, good vision contributes to unlocking a child’s full potential and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Improved education (SDG4) helps reduce poverty (SDG 1), inequalities (SDG10) and hunger (SDG2), and it enables decent work and economic growth (SDG8).
RESEARCH SUGGESTS POOR VISION HINDERS SCHOOL SUCCESS AND CAN LEAD TO EXCLUSION
The WHO’s World Report on Vision (2019) suggested that school-aged children with vision impairment can experience lower levels of educational achievement and self-esteem than their peers with good vision.
The most recent report from The Lancet Global Health Commission (2021) stated that children with vision impairment have poorer educational outcomes and are more likely to be excluded from schools or less likely to attend than children with good vision.
In “The Price of Exclusion” (2019), the World Bank Group published findings from research conducted in 21 African countries, showing that children with visual impairment were on average five to seven percentage points less likely to ever enroll in school, complete their primary education, and be literate than children without disabilities.
RESEARCH BOLSTERS THE CASE FOR GOOD VISION AT THE LOCAL LEVEL
Numerous studies have investigated the impact of vision impairment on academic achievement in school-aged children, and studies from several countries underscore the link between uncorrected poor vision and children’s education.
A study from Spain (2020) proved the link between impaired distance vision and academic performance, concluding that children with lower academic performance had poorer vision than those with higher academic performance. Hopkins’ review from Australia (2019), suggested an association between academic performance and both visual acuity and refractive error in children.
Research from Malaysia (2011) investigated the relationship between vision problems and academic achievement, asserting that visual performance is key to learning. Research from the U.S. (2016) demonstrated that vision disorders affected literacy and preschool reading skills, while another study from Israel (2005) evidenced how non-proficient readers had significantly poorer academic performance due to vision deficit than proficient readers. Poor vision in school-aged children affects not only reading, but also grammar, punctuation, spelling and basic mathematics, as reported by another Australian research article (2017).
NEW RESEARCH ADDRESSES IMPACTS BEYOND LEARNING
A new study from Kosovo, a collaboration of the Vision Impact Institute, EdGuard Institute, and ESSILOR’s Vision for Life™ social impact fund, highlights the correlation between uncorrected poor vision and children’s learning, functional, and behavioral capacities.
The baseline research, the first of its kind conducted in Kosovo’s schools, reveals that one in three children presents difficulties seeing the board. Moreover, findings suggest that children with poor vision have a higher risk of developing incapacitating symptoms than children with good vision.
Those with poor vision:
Have their learning capacity (reading, writing, drawing, doing homework) affected more often than children with good vision, and they encounter more difficulties when playing or participating in sports.
Often report headaches and functional eye disorders (tired, itching, tearing, painful, burning) eyes), and they modify their physical behavior in the classroom or at home – squinting, rubbing their eyes, getting closer to the book, resting on their wrist, moving closer to the board, or sitting in the first desk.
Feel uncomfortable when playing with others and frustrated when poor eyesight hinders their completion of homework.
The Kosovo study suggests that the impact of poor vision is broader than what we thought; it is beyond education and development. If undetected and uncorrected, vision disorders can hinder a child’s potential, not only from an educational standpoint, but also psychosocial and quality of life perspectives.
RESEARCH CONFIRMS SPECTACLES IMPROVE EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE IN CHILDREN
Based on studies from the U.S. and China, The Lancet (2021) reported that providing spectacles to children improves educational performance, supporting that quality education (SDG4) has an impact at least as large as other health interventions.
Additionally, the IAPB’s report Eye Health in the Commonwealth underscored that eyeglasses can reduce the odds of failing a class by 44%, and it suggested that vision screening and provision of glasses are the most effective health interventions for children to help education opportunities.
In 2017, EYElliance's report estimated that a pair of eyeglasses could correct the poor vision of 200+ million children globally, while another study from the U.S. (2016) described how wearing corrective eyeglasses improves children’s wellbeing and school function.
The most recent study published in Jama Ophthalmology (2021), reported that students in grades 3 to 7 who received eye examinations and eyeglasses through a school-based vision program improved their academic achievement over 1 year.
The evidence is clear that a simple pair of eyeglasses, worn in compliance, could be the solution needed to positively impact the trajectory of a child’s life.
CALL FOR ACTION: EVERY CHILD COUNTS!
Evidence brings meaning. Addressing vision problems in children must now, more than ever, be a priority for governments and all stakeholders driving change.
Research has important implications for parents, teachers, and eye health professionals. The findings highlight the importance of early vision screening and identifying at-risk children who may be achieving below their true potential due to unaddressed vision needs.
Raising awareness, increasing access, investing in eye health services for all children is critical for learning achievement, human capital and economic growth. This has direct implications for policymakers globally.
At the Vision Impact Institute, we believe that every child everywhere has a right to clear vision and equal opportunities to excel in life.
That is why we are committed to making the case for good vision every day and urging advocacy partners to empower governments’ policy roadmaps toward adequate planning for eye care services in children.
Eva Lazuka-Nicoulaud is the Director – Europe-Africa at the Vision Impact Institute, working with governments, key opinion leaders, and non-governmental organizations to raise awareness for healthy vision through advocacy initiatives in these regions.