Sight is something most people take for granted, yet at least 239 million children around the world suffer from impaired vision that could be corrected by spectacles. Since 80% of all learning occurs through vision, children who cannot afford spectacles are at a major disadvantage in education environments, which can lead to lower earning potential later in their lives.*
As we observe World Sight Day on 12 October, the Adopt-a-School Foundation (AAS) encourages partners in the private sector, civil society, and government to support its efforts to address the issue of impaired vision that affects millions of underprivileged learners in South Africa.
AAS first encountered this issue six years ago in Bodibe, a small village nestled in the rural part of the North West province, when they were conducting educator development programmes in 11 schools in the community. Educators shared their frustrations with AAS, saying that many children were being disruptive and unable to concentrate. When AAS investigated the matter, they decided to test the learners’ eyesight, and found that more than half of the children had vision problems.
“At AAS we use a unique Whole School Development (WSD) approach to school development,” says Banyana Mohajane, Head of Skills and Social Development at AAS. “Rather than tackle an individual issue, WSD works to improve the school holistically by focussing on the academic, infrastructural, social, and security environment in which a school operates. This includes issues such as learner health and well-being, and includes eyesight testing,” she continues.
“Most children in our adopted schools have never had their eyes tested,” explains Mohajane. “Through the introduction of mobile eyesight testing clinics, we have found that up to 15% of these learners have vision problems, which could lead to poor academic performance,” she continues.
The benefits of treating impaired vision are immediate and clear. Research by the World Economic Forum has found that simply correcting the vision of primary school students is equivalent to another six months of additional schooling in terms of test scores. There is also strong evidence that the provision of spectacles leads to higher earnings, and can lead to increases in GDP.*
“Over the last six years we have partnered with optometrists to conduct nearly 60 000 eyesight tests. We have donated 2 697 pairs of spectacles to learners in need and have referred the more serious cases to specialists and the Department of Health,” continues Mohajane. “Together with our partners, we hope to test the eyesight of many more school children across South Africa,” she concludes.
* Eyeglasses for Global Development: Bridging the Visual Divide, World Economic Forum