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Modern schooling could be shortening vision, warns Australian behavioural optometrist Gary Rodney.

Technology and screens have become a big part of teaching, providing fast and easy access to information. But according to Mr Rodney, this way of teaching could be costing children dearly; affecting sight, focus, and even proper interpretation of what they are seeing and learning about.

Gary Rodney is a behavioural optometrist and fellow of the International Academy of Orthokeratology and Myopia Control (FIAOMC).

He says there’s been a great deal of debate about the effects of screens on children’s eyes, and the Computer Vision Syndrome caused when screens are watched for too long (which causes poor eye-teaming, eye fatigue, blurred vision and dry eyes), but other factors are now also entering the discussion.

Eye experts are becoming aware of the growing impact on vision caused by technology and lifestyle, partly as a result of studies-based experience during COVID-19 lockdowns.

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Beyond fatigue

New research suggests that long spells of screen watching at one focal distance could adversely impact children’s distance and peripheral vision, as well as depth and perceptual vision skills, and even affect understanding of what they are seeing.

It also contributes to the epidemic levels of myopia (shortsightedness) currently affecting one in three people globally.

Mr Rodney says that problem is linked to the speedy growth of technology, close work, and urbanisation, which has resulted in largely indoor and screen-dominated lifestyles.

‘Taking children’s natural tendency to mimic their parents’ habits into consideration, many of these researchers are increasingly focusing on this type of lifestyle when looking for a cause for myopia, instead of focusing entirely on parental genes,’ said Mr Rodney.

‘Their move in this direction has been supported by studies showing a significant growth in myopia during lockdowns, particularly in young children.’

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Screen based learning problematic

Mr Rodney argues that while technology, and screens, provide quick access to knowledge, and even faster answers, there’s no real connection created between the viewer and the information or two-dimensional image on the screen. Nor is there a tangible one with the computer that delivers it.

As quickly as it is delivered, it can be deleted from the screen, and even from the viewer’s memory.

He says this lack of connection or engagement can impact on children’s perceptual vision, the skill that enables them to understand what they are seeing on the screen, and its relevance in their lives. It can also lead to a loss of curiosity about knowledge, and shorter attention spans when it comes to learning.

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Person to person

‘Studies have shown that children learn best when engaged on a person- to-person basis, whether that’s with a parent or a teacher,’ said Mr Rodney.

‘Perhaps it’s a throwback to a time long ago, when most children learned from their parents about how to function, behave, and survive in the real world, and learning was, more often than not, the result of demonstration, participation, observation, and practicality,’ he said.

Like it or not, those who love computers have ensured that almost everyone else has to use them daily these days, so a balance of real and virtual experiences seems to be the key – for humans both young and old – if we’re to maintain our vision moving forward.