A few months before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Tsang, a mother of two, who asked to be identified by her surname, enrolled her oldest daughter in several online classes including Chinese language, mathematics and music.
Looking at computer screens for 60 to 90 minutes a day meant her daughter Andrea could study by herself, allowing Tsang to focus on caring for her younger daughter.
But the outbreak has led to Andrea’s computer time surging, with her kindergarten adopting online teaching during the school suspension. Andrea now spends up to 3 hours a day learning via computer.
A survey conducted by sight-saving charity Orbis in March showed nearly 90 percent of respondents said that e-learning during the school suspension had increased their daily use of electronic devices.
Furthermore, almost half of all respondents suffered from dry eyes or other visual discomforts when using electronic devices.
The E-learning and Eye Health Survey collected data via online questionnaires from 427 students and parents from kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, and tertiary education.
Among 49.7 percent of respondents who reported feeling eye discomfort while looking at screens, 40.9 percent suffered from dry eyes, 10.7 percent felt eye pain and 8.6 percent watery eyes.
Many individual interviewees also said their eyes had become inflamed or their sight blurred.
Orbis volunteer ophthalmologist Emmy Li Yuen-mei said that with e-learning becoming widespread, the most effective way students can protect themselves from developing eye diseases like myopia is to maintain an appropriate distance between their eyes and screens while limiting their use of devices.
For tablets, the distance between eyes and screens should be more than 40 centimeters, or 70cm in the case of larger laptops or desktop computers, Li said.
Li urged both parents and students to look at something else six meters away and rest for at least 20 seconds after gazing at a monitor for more than 20 minutes to prevent eye diseases.
The survey also found that students’ eye protection awareness remains low, with 40 percent saying they gazed at screens from closer than 40 centimeters, and more than 70 percent did not rest for 20 seconds after every 20 minutes of device use.
“Controlling the time kids spend looking at electronic monitors is the best way to protect their eyes,” Li said, recommending that parents use a timer to help children understand the importance of allocating screen time.
While nearly 90 percent of kindergarten parents agreed their kids’ usage had risen, awareness among parents was high, with more than half saying their children took breaks according to expert advice.
Tsang’s fear is that Andrea’s emmetropia could change into myopia as Andrea used to be hyperopic. Therefore, every time Andrea turns on a device, Tsang turns down the screen’s brightness. She even bought Andrea screen filters, “blue light pills” and glasses.
Li said that while blue-ray glasses and filters lack evidence of slowing the development of myopia, products that reduce light may make users’ eyes feel more comfortable. “Maintaining a balanced diet is far more important for children’s eye health than ‘blue light pills’ or other supplements,” Li added.
She also suggested youngsters who use devices for a long time should blink more or use preservative-free artificial tears to increase their secretion of tears and moisturize the surface of their eyeballs.
(This article was published at The Standard on April 21, 2020: Education: Tears and big screen fears )