SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — In sixth grade, Guo Zhipeng, a young, bright student in rural China, develops mild myopia. He can still mostly see the blackboard, but whenever he is placed in the back of class he can’t see clearly and he suffers academically. He begins to miss fundamental academic content.
Zhipeng moves on to seventh grade, where he is in class for 12 hours a day and is pushed hard to prepare for high school entrance exams. He takes notes from the blackboard, but his poor vision and worsening myopia impairs his ability to keep up with his classmates. He takes notes at half the pace of his peers.
Despite his abilities, Zhipeng is unable to keep up with his classes and his grades start to fall. As his grades fall, his teachers and his parents lose confidence in his potential to achieve academically.
At the same time, he becomes frustrated and starts acting out in class. As a result, his teachers place him in the back of the class – meaning he sees less, studying becomes more difficult and he loses hope in education.
While many international education initiatives focus on bringing more resources to poor communities around the world or ensuring that teachers are better trained, one organization is addressing a problem with the students themselves — their eyesight.
When students are unable to see the blackboard, like Zhipeng, they begin to lose confidence in their abilities. Students lose motivation for learning as they think the reason they are unable to answer basic questions or read basic phrases is because they are not smart rather than the fact that their inability to see is getting in the way of learning.
Recognizing that students in poor communities often lack the resources for eye-exams and glasses, Education in Sight was co-founded by Andrew Shirman and George Dong, who both experienced the need while teaching in rural China. Shirman founded EIS so that “no students’ academic potential will be limited by their access to corrected vision, no matter where they are from.”
Despite China’s incredible economic achievements over the past few decades, there is a growing gap in education between rural and urban students. Over 200 million children in rural China have limited access to quality education; 20 percent of which have vision problems, further reducing their chances of gaining the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the classroom.
EIS works to ensure students like Zhipeng don’t drop out of school due to their vision problems. They partner with the local school administrations and doctors in rural communities to schedule eye exams at school, so that all students have an opportunity to get their eyes tested. After students are tested, EIS delivers eyeglasses directly to students through corporate sponsorships and crowd funding.
Classrooms are transformed as a result of the program. Students are not only provided with glasses, but now study in an environment where glasses are not stigmatized. EIS provides crucial eyesight education to students, teachers and parents ensuring that the care for the students’ vision and eyesight is maintained in the long run.
EIS cites studies conducted by the Rural Education Action Program, a Stanford-based research program that works to help China’s vulnerable communities overcome health and education obstacles so that they can escape poverty, as a main motivation behind their organization. REAP, which runs its own vision initiative, has found that students with impaired vision can boost their academic performance by an entire year’s worth of schooling just by receiving a pair of glasses.
While EIS is currently limited to China and the U.S., Shirman foresees development into other countries in the future, saying that he wants to build, “a foundation that delivers high quality service that can sustain itself.”
With more than 90 percent of people with vision impairment living in the developing world, the need to address this issue is great. Vision impairment not only affects school children, but working adults as well. By providing eye exams and eyeglasses, EIS and organizations like it are helping change the life trajectory of people like Zhipeng in poor communities all around the world.
Learn more about Education in Sight at www.education-in-sight.org or contact Andrew Shirman at email@example.com.
– Andrea Blinkhorn
Sources: Education in Sight, Interview with EIS founder Andrew Shirman
Photo: Ed Week