There are many barriers preventing a child from fully participating in the quality education they deserve. One easily overcome barrier is poor vision correctable with glasses. Today, a pair of eyeglasses could correct the poor vision of 239 million children worldwide, many of whom have myopia. Children with myopia can see nearby objects, but those farther way, such as a classroom blackboard, are blurry.

Myopia can affect children as young as six, but is commonly diagnosed between 8 and 12 years of age. Without glasses, these children are at a major disadvantage in school because according to the American Optometric Association, during the formative first 12 years of a child’s life, an estimated 80% of all learning occurs through vision. Children with myopia and poor vision tend to underperform in school, and are often falsely identified as having a learning disability, leading some to be placed in specialized classes. If current trends continue, a study estimates 4.8 billion people, or about half the world’s population, will have myopia by 2050.

“Correcting vision with glasses is the single most effective health intervention when it comes to improving academic performance.” Scott Rozelle, Stanford University

Strong evidence from a review of 60 trials of health interventions conducted in primary schools showed that the impact on learning outcomes by correcting vision with glasses was 10 times higher than from deworming, and 3 times higher than from nutrition trials. Additionally, research has proven that correcting vision in primary school students has a significant impact on test scores and improved academic performance; in some cases it is equivalent to between a third to a half year of additional schooling.

Given that correcting vision in primary school students can, in certain circumstances, be equal to up to half a year of additional schooling, correcting vision – it can be reasonably assumed – could increase earnings by as much as 5%. A World Bank policy research working paper noted that an increase of one standard deviation in test scores of international literacy and math assessments is associated with a 2% increase in annual growth of GDP per capita. Research demonstrates that correcting children’s vision yields an increase in test scores by at least 0.1 standard deviation, and suggests that providing eyeglasses could be associated with a 0.2% increase in annual growth of GDP per capita. These findings support the conclusion that providing properly prescribed glasses for children could potentially increase personal earnings by 5% and raise GDP by 0.2%. Therefore, providing this equal opportunity to children with poor vision has far-reaching benefits when considering the widely recognized impact of improved educational outcomes on personal income and GDP.

The Education Commission recognizes the importance of correcting school children’s vision

Increasingly, global education initiatives are emphasizing equal access to education beyond enrolment and are coming to include measurements of learning outcomes. The Education Commission’s recent report “The Learning Generation,” has recognized the importance of providing eyeglasses for improved learning as a contributing factor to delivering quality education for all.

The report builds a compelling investment case and financial pathway for the largest expansion of educational opportunity in modern history through four transformations – reforms in the performance of education systems, innovation, inclusion, and finance. Eyeglasses are referenced in two critical recommendations under the pillars of inclusion and innovation:

  • Recommendation seven, states the need for the pursuit of progressive universalism, that includes the endorsement of integrating “eyeglasses necessary for learning” into ‘free’ education in order to expand provision of quality education for all children.
  • Recommendation eight, refers to the need for investment across sectors to tackle the factors preventing learning, and importance in innovations in delivery. “Innovations in delivery can be particularly effective in helping to include and integrate children with disabilities into mainstream education” which include technology to help “increase access to simple, low-cost measures such as glasses.”

These recommendations presented in the Learning Generation report provide an opportunity to further mobilize cross-sector collaboration and support for integrated school eye health approaches, ensuring that children have the proper vision they need to fully participate in their education.

Collaboration between eye health and education actors is critical to attaining UN Global Goal #SDG4

Providing glasses to children who need them is a simple intervention that ensures children with poor vision have an equal opportunity to succeed in school – a condition critical for attaining Goal Four of the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”.

The Commission’s approach to progressive universalism, including public finances covering all in-school incidental fees, such as those for textbooks and other learning materials like eyeglasses, is closely aligned with EYElliance’s work to promote increased collaboration among ministries of education, health, and finance to establish and scale school eye health initiatives.

The EYElliance, is a new multi-stakeholder initiative with public, private, and NGO partners collaborating across sectors to address the global unmet need for eyeglasses. EYElliance recently published a report with the World Economic Forum, Eyeglasses for Global Development: Bridging the Visual Divide, that echoes the Learning Generation’s vision for improved educational outcomes as well as highlighting the opportunity for increased productivity and stimulation of the global economy through vision correction with glasses.

The report includes case studies and evidence that validates different approaches to school eye health programs including franchising networks in China, government-led and funded programs in Mexico, and organizations bundling eye health and health interventions – such as deworming – in school-based programs. The advisory panel for the report recommended national government’s integrating school eye health into existing school health initiatives, and to partner with international donor and finance communities to build viable programs – those that ensure free or subsidized glasses for children from low-income families.

Since publishing the report in June 2016, EYElliance is working to operationalize the recommendations set forth in the report. Following the momentum of collaborative projects with the World Health Organization and USAID’s Office of Education, the EYElliance is aiming to engage leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters this January. EYElliance will outline opportunities for governments and business leaders to engage in the achievement of our report recommendations.

Therefore, it is enormously encouraging to see the Education Commission reference the prioritization of eyeglasses and model how both sectors of education and eye health can work together to improve educational outcomes. In a time marked by a renewed global commitment to reduce inequalities, cross-sector collaboration has never been more critical to global development. Now is our moment of opportunity to solve the problem of poor vision in school-age children.

Lexi Balfour is a Partnership Manager at EYElliance. You can learn more about EYElliance by visiting their website and reading their report.