We were out at Titahi Bay School at the end of the last school term, doing some screening of all the Year 6 (that's Standard 4) kids before they headed off to intermediate school in 2016. It was great to meet the kids, and have a quick chat as we did the screening. One of the highlights for me was seeing the real enthusiasm in some kids' faces when we asked them if they liked to read (this wasn't just small talk, but a good chance to see if their eyes got sore or tired when reading as well).
Year 6 students were chosen as an initial focus because they will be leaving Titahi Bay School at the end of the term, to start intermediate school. The screening tool used was a 3-point check test of near vision, developed by Vision for Learning. The screening checks for:
Near focusing – the student covers one eye and looks at the top row of letters on the stick; starting from at least 50cm away, the stick is moved closer to the uncovered eye and the child reports when the letters first go blurry). With vision in the normal range, the letters should not blur further than around 10cm away from the child.
Convergence – using the tool in figure two (the child is asked to focus on the ball on the end of the stick as it is brought towards them, starting at about 50cm and moving closer). There may be a problem with the eyes' ability to converge (turn in towards each other) if the child sees the target split into a double image further than 8cm from their face, and/or an eye appears to turn out at a distance greater than 10cm (assessed visually by the screener).
Words moving on the page – using coloured lenses as shown in figure three to test for any improvements in reading a passage of text. When looking at normal-sized reading text, the child is asked if the words appear still, or if they jump or move on the page. If the child reports seeing words moving on the page, the different tinted lenses can be tried to see if this helps or stops the symptoms.
Of the 58 kids we saw, 19 of them would benefit from follow-up with an optometrist. Where parental consent was given, eye tests were done at the local optometrist. Not all of the children who we identified through the screening needed glasses, but it is really useful to come up with some more detailed expert advice on their eyesight needs. Mr Foureyes provided the kids who needed glasses - for free! - before school finished for the year.
We hope to be back at Titahi Bay this year, to do screening of other age groups as well. We are particularly keen to screen kids who are currently in remedial learning programmes like reading recovery - with some studies suggesting at least 70% of children with learning difficulties have a vision problem. We are also looking at new options for screening more accurately, as well as potentially providing eye tests on-site.