The Genius of ‘Eye See Eye Learn’

Note to all parents: Vision care is essential for your child’s success in school and good health. In Alberta, health care covers vision exams for children and seniors, and for all adult medical eye and vision concerns. Ensure each of your children has had a vision assessment so you know what you’re dealing with. Call us to set an appointment. Read on for more about free glasses for Kindergarten children and the ESEL program:

The Eye See Eye Learn program (ESEL) is sponsored by the Province and the Alberta Association of Optometrists. Its aim is to promote proper vision care for children, and provide glasses to children in Kindergarten who need them. It’s an important program and the schools generally hand out postcards with ESEL information to all Kindergarten parents at the beginning of the year. It seems to be such a great idea: Check a child for vision concerns, then make it easy for parents to provide the necessary correction at a reasonable cost.

ESEL is a great concept and it rightly addresses a fundamental flaw in how we currently handle children’s health and education: We wait until there is a problem before we do anything, when we could simply look in advance.

ESEL is a great concept and it rightly addresses a fundamental flaw in how we currently handle children’s health and education: We wait until there is a problem before we do anything, when we could simply look in advance. Parents of affected children are generally surprised to find their children have struggled while no one bothered to check or tell them to.

There are, however, some significant problems with ESEL, but mostly in the fact that the great majority of Alberta children still don’t get even a basic eye exam before it’s too late. Of those Albertan children who need glasses or therapy for success in school and in life, very few actually do get help. ESEL, in other words, does not go far enough.

ESEL is a stroke of genius, really. In principle it advocates for a small amount of effort when a child is young to ensure proper growth and development down the road. The current model takes the reverse approach.

The intent of ESEL is correct as is the fundamental model: Children need to be checked for vision concerns early, so we need to make essential vision care more accessible to parents. It is a stroke of genius, really. In principle it advocates for a small amount of effort when a child is young to ensure proper growth and development down the road. The current model takes the reverse approach: Do nothing when the child is young, but pour many times more on the problem later to make up the difference. Often times, it’s simply too late.

Unless it is deployed in a mandatory way across the Province, ESEL will always remain a great idea that was never properly implemented. Not insisting on vision care is like ignoring vaccinations entirely, ignoring seatbelt laws, or keeping your child up all night on school nights. It’s not surprising most children with learning concerns also have ‘visual perceptual’ concerns. In Kentucky, simply checking for basic vision problems in all Kindergarten students raised academic scores 7% or more over 7 years. Managing vision from an early age is so simple yet so important. It just makes sense.

In Kentucky, simply checking for basic vision problems in all Kindergarten students raised academic scores 7% or more over 7 years.

As it stands, very little is put into ensuring every child has a chance to have their vision checked and properly managed. ESEL is voluntary, and this alone leads to low capture rates. There are also problems on the supply side of things. Finally, parents are also wary of checking their child’s vision if there is a perceived cost involved (exams are covered by the Province but not all parents are aware of this). These combined with the inconvenience of getting to exams means very few of the children who need the help ever get it, perhaps 1 in 5 by the time it’s too late.

For most schools and parents, the ESEL postcard is a coupon, something else to put on the recycling pile.

If a child appears to be fine and time doesn’t seem to allow it, it’s easy to forego exams. For most schools and parents, the ESEL postcard is a coupon, something else to put on the recycling pile. Children’s vision is worth more than a passing consideration or the value of a coupon. Schools need to explain this to new parents, as do family physicians.

ESEL is worth supporting, and all children without exception are worthy of being checked, especially if they are to be made to sit through long school days. We all need to step up and ensure all children are fairly treated by insisting on expanded vision service for all Albertans. This includes telling your MLA to boost funding for ESEL, glasses and vision rehabilitation therapy for those who need it and can’t afford it, and expanded coverage through private insurance for those who can.

Most importantly, forward thinking on vision requires that schools must insist on a certificate of vision assessment as part of intake: A summary of the child’s state of vision simply must be a part of the child’s school record, and considered no less important than the birth date when assigning school tasks. Stop by and see me any time and I’ll be happy to tell you all the details.

Schools have the means to ensure all children are checked and to make this easy for parents. It’s an easy argument to also say they have a responsibility to do something.

ESEL was created in Alberta and now exists pretty well across Canada. (Read: EyeSeeEyeLearn_CJO2012) It remains an example of public health policy that gets an A+ in it’s simplicity, low cost, and its broad impact on human rights, society, and the economy. It’s a start in ensuring that all children are checked for basic vision problems before we push them through 12 years of school. Schools for their part have the means to ensure all children are checked and to make this easy for parents. It’s an easy argument to make that they also have a responsibility to do something. Let’s see what happens.

 

 

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