By Ng Shu Yi, Optometrist, International Eye Cataract Retina Centre, Singapore

Professor Datuk Dr Rokiah Hj Omar, director at the University Community Transformation Centre at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, was an overseas guest speaker at the Singapore Primary Eye Care Symposium (SPECS) 2018 held at One Farrer Hotel on 18-19 July 2018. She gave a lecture titled “Prevention of Blindness: Empowering Pre-school Teachers – Does it Work?” to delegates at the symposium.

Undetected visual problems may impede a child’s development academically and socially. Children attend preschool between four to six years of age. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), preschoolers develop their visually-guided eye-hand-body coordination, fine motor skills and visual perceptual abilities necessary to learn to read and write.

Since preschool teachers spend half a day with preschool children almost daily, there is opportunity for preschool teachers to assist in referring children for further eye examination if they can be equipped with proper training to detect visual impairment. In a randomised clinical trial, Professor Datuk Dr Rokiah showed that preschool teachers in Malaysia can be trained to conduct vision screening effectively. She emphasized that early intervention for any eye disease in children is associated with  better performance in school and better quality of life.

Professor Datuk Dr Rokiah shared that empowering preschool teachers with proper training to conduct vision screenings for preschool children can help in the early detection of vision problems as most of the learning and day activities happen in school. Her suggestions include conducting a visual acuity test, external observation of the eye and Hirschberg’s test. However, there are challenges and one of these is identifying preschool teachers who are committed to the additional training to carry out the vision screening programme.