By Amjad Murdos
Low-income children who had been struggling in school because of poor eyesight became more focused and engaged in their work after receiving free eye exams and glasses from a nonprofit program, UCLA researchers found.
Students from three Los Angeles elementary schools told researchers that they were doing better in school and were happier to be there. Teachers and parents said the students behaved better in class and read more.
The study, which appeared in the May 2016 edition of Maternal and Child Health Journal, shows that programs that increase the ownership and use of glasses may boost academic performance and student well-being.
These services, which are free to families, include a replacement pair in the event of damage or loss of the glasses. The program covers the cost of the frames, prescription lenses, eye exam, and program administration.
Up to 20% of school children have vision problems, 80% of which can be corrected with glasses. Low-income and minority children are disproportionately affected by uncorrected vision problems because of decreased access to glasses and increased occurrence of vision problems.
Several studies show associations between vision problems, poor school performance, and lower quality of life. Vision problems are associated with poorer grades, poor classroom behavior, a disruptive school environment, lower test scores, and even school failure or dropout. However, few studies have examined the impact of corrective lenses on academic achievement and well-being.
The UCLA study recruited Vision To Learn participants at three elementary schools that serve mostly Latino students. At each school, three focus groups were formed: the parent group, the teacher group, and the student group. A total of 20 parents, 25 teachers, and 21 students participated. The parent group discussion was conducted in Spanish while the student and teacher groups were conducted in English to better understand issues and benefits regarding glasses.
The most surprising finding was the large amount of stress vision problems placed on teachers, parents and students, Dr. Rebecca Dudovitz, the lead investigator, said.
Teachers reported stress related to managing a classroom with students who might be disruptive due to their poor vision, which modifies the learning environment for all students. Parents felt stress because they could not afford the glasses that their children needed. Students reported having headaches and eye strain as well as getting in trouble for poor behavior and academic performance.
"When I didn't have glasses, I had bad grades and my mom and dad weren't happy," one child said.
"I saw blurry. My teacher said that I had to move from my friends because I couldn't see," another child told researchers.
The study shows the benefits of directly partnering with schools to give children the vision care they need. Equipped with glasses, students had greater focus, participation, effort, homework completion, and improved overall academic skills.
"We all have an investment in making sure our children are supported to do well in school and be successful," Dr. Dudovitz said. "For the cost of basically $100, making sure a child can see may be a very simple intervention that can have in impact on their academic future."
Dr. Dudovitz, a CTSI KL2 scholar, said that her team is continuing to follow the students and will be looking more closely at the changes in students' grades before and after they receive glasses to provide further evidence to policy makers showing the benefits of glasses in an academic setting.
About the writer: Amjad Murdos is a second-year UCLA undergraduate from Rochester, Minn. He is studying psychobiology.