Any sustainable action towards transforming education must ensure that all learners have unhindered access to and participation in education. To do so, the health and well-being of the learner must be prioritized. While health promotion in schools is far from a new concept, it played a strikingly small role in discussions and within national statements on sustainable solutions at TES.
TES was a key initiative launched by the Secretary-General as a result of COVID-19 causing more than 90 % of the world’s children to have their education interrupted— the largest disruption of education systems in history. This makes the absence of meaningful commitments around comprehensive school health programs that include critical interventions such as eye screenings all the more perplexing.
UN Resolution A/75/L.108 – Vision for Everyone; accelerating action to achieve the sustainable development goals made clear that the realization of “Vision for Everyone” will have a positive impact on school enrolment, educational attainment, learning and the achievement of inclusive education systems.
Investment in health has never been as important for education as it is today. Currently, at least 450 million children have a sight condition that needs treatment, with 90 million children living with some form of sight loss. Children with unaddressed vision impairments are up to five times less likely to be in formal education, have poorer educational outcomes, and risk future earning potential and well-being. Studies now show that children are experiencing worsening vision at a faster-than-expected rate, with 50% of the world’s population expected to be myopic by 2050.
However, many of the world’s leaders continue to fail to make the connection between healthy, clear vision and their national objectives for achieving greater quality education and economic growth.
Overlooking eye health in school-aged children is a shortcoming that has devastating long-term socioeconomic consequences for children, their families, and communities.
So, with a collective effort, how do we make those with the power and obligation to enact change see the obvious when it comes to eye health and education?
In July, IAPB took this critical message to the UN’s Pre-Education Summit at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. With a powerful but simple message, “If you struggle to see, you struggle to learn,” displayed across a blurred-out chalkboard, we commanded the attention of global leaders, youth advocates, government ministers and educators and garnered over 200 signatures in support for our cause.
Individuals who met with our team came to understand what they already instinctually knew: that without considering the eye health of learners or the expansion of integrated and comprehensive vision screenings in our schools, we will never reverse the slide on SDG 4 or accelerate progress on education.
The SDG 4 High-Level Steering Committee will be responsible for the follow-up process to further shape the future of education and meet 2030 SDG Education targets. The Committee will continue to monitor progress, promote and facilitate knowledge and practice exchange, engage youth, and champion cross-sector and multilateral cooperation. The global eye health sector must continue to push for the inclusion of child eye health and comprehensive school health programs amongst these critical stakeholders to ensure vision ceases to be a barrier to accessing quality education.
To support national efforts to implement the UN resolution on vision and to help global leaders recognize the obvious role of eye health in reimagining education systems for the world of today and tomorrow, we invite our members to continue carrying these messages forward. In doing so, we will achieve global acknowledgement of the critical role vision plays in delivering the knowledge, skills and outlooks needed for children, young people and adults to excel in today’s world and contribute to sustainable, healthy and peaceful futures.
For more information on child eye health and vision, visit Focus on Child Eye Health.