The education and social development of many low decile school students is being impacted by their poor vision according to new Massey University research.
Initial findings from the study, which examined changes in the learning outcomes of school students with previously undiagnosed vision conditions, which had now been treated, showed noticeable changes in their academic, social and physical performance and has raised a number of questions about vision services in New Zealand.
The research was initiated following the work of the Essilor Vision Foundation, a local charity which found more than 30% of the 3000 low decile school students screened by volunteer optometrists had a vision issue they were unaware of.
One of the study authors, Dr Julia Budd, says the research findings to date identified a number of gaps in the current system.
“The existing ‘before school’ vision check screens for amblyopia (lazy eye), distance acuity and strabismus (squint) but does not check for mild to moderate hyperopia (farsightedness) or near distance acuity.
“This means that common refractive errors of mild to moderate hyperopia with or without astigmatism (blurred vision) or myopia (nearsightedness) are not identified despite these issues being recognised as leading to poor school performance and behaviour,” she says.
Dr Budd also said that it raised a number of questions about the type of tests and frequency of the vision screening being undertaken.
Associate Professor Alison Kearney, another of the study’s authors, says teachers play a major role in identifying poor vision problems, encouraging the use of glasses and evaluating the improvement better vision has on academic performance and social interactions.
Professor Kearney also says that while some of the students had unconsciously found ways to compensate for their poor vision including moving to desks which were closer to the board, more research was needed.
“We need to give schools the tools to help identify the behavioural signals associated with eyesight issues and introduce systems which help us track these students through their education to ensure their condition is monitored overtime,” she says.
Essilor Vision Foundation volunteer optometrist Heather Laird says it’s disconcerting to know that the majority of these conditions are treatable and addressing them would have a profound impact of the lives of some of our most vulnerable young people.
“Our eyesight plays a key role in our social, academic and physical development. It is saddening to hear that there are potentially hundreds of thousands of Kiwi kids in their formative education years who are having to manage each day with an eye condition that is easily treatable.
“The charity’s goal is to see every child in need screened and treated before it negatively impacts their development or the condition worsens and becomes more serious.
The research was released to coincide with World Sight Day on October 12. For more information visit essilorvisionfoundation.org.nz.