VIDEO: Kiwi kids in low decile schools are given thier first pair of glasses

Music 27/06/2016

A South Auckland primary school has held a 'glasses graduation' for students with eyesight problems in the hope it will improve their futures. 

Glasses were donated to 26 Year Five and Six students at Rowandale School by the Essilor Vision Foundation and Manurewa optometrist Frith and Laird. 

Deputy Principal Lois Hawley-Simmonds says they presented the spectacles at a ceremony in the hope it will remove any stigma around wearing them. 

"Let's face it, sometimes kids can be teased for wearing glasses, but I liken it to the fact these children aren't just wearing glasses, they're super heroes!" 

Ms Hawley-Simmonds believes having glasses will make a big difference to the children's lives. 

"I would love to see an improvement with their academic learning and their self-esteem," she says. 

"It goes part-in-parcel with students that may misbehave because they're frustrated with the work they can't do." 

Research has consistently shown education is one of the keys to breaking the poverty cycle, but with up to 80 percent of learning done using sight, untreated vision problems can hold kids back. 

Figures released to Newshub under the Official Information Act reveal that over the past decade the number of Kiwi kids referred to optometrists by in-school vision and hearing technicians has risen from 4500 to 7200. 

However, we have no idea how many kids actually get glasses because the Government doesn't record that information. 

Parents and caregivers are advised of their child's results but Labour believes for some families, getting to an optometry appointment is a struggle. 

"In decile one and two communities, parents' priorities are actually putting a roof over their children's heads, making sure they have food, making sure their houses are warm," says MP Louisa Wall. 

"The luxury of being able to see an optometrist when you've got all these other daily and weekly needs is just too great." 

The Government funds a spectacle subsidy of $287.50 a year, but Ms Wall says many parents aren't aware it exists. 

She wants the Government to follow through with referrals and measure how many kids actually get glasses, rather than just the number who need them.

"It's about measuring the outcome not the problem; this is just another example of the growing inequality in New Zealand." 

In New Zealand, little research has been done into how vision problems affect learning, and education experts say it's difficult to push the Government for change without any solid proof. 

Researchers from Massey University are working to change that -- they're going to monitor the pupils at Rowandale to track how the glasses affect the student's behavioural and learning outcome. 

"Every child, regardless of their socio-economic income situation, should have access to corrective lenses if they need them," says Associate Professor Alison Kearney. 

"This is an equity issue. This is a government issue." 

Professor Kearney believes giving kids free glasses to assist their education is a quick fix for inter-generational poverty. 

"Think of the cost-saving to the country, the provision of spectacles in the long term is a really economic way of stopping a whole lot of problems that develop further down the track. It's a no brainer." 

[Source: Newshub.]