I got new lenses in my eyeglasses last week. I had been noticing that distant signs weren’t quite as sharp as they used to be, so I wasn’t surprised that at my annual eye exam, the doctor said my prescription had changed. It wasn’t a big difference, but enough to warrant new lenses. I’ve been through many such adjustments since junior high, when I began wearing glasses.

As I drove away with my newly improved vision, I was thinking about how amazing it is that someone figured out such a simple way to make vision possible. Without my glasses, I can see clearly only about a foot or two away. Beyond that, things get blurry. But by putting some glass in front of my eyes, voila! Such a significant problem so easily fixed. Things snap into perfect focus and I can see the individual leaves on the tree across the street. And the lettering on street signs. And, back in junior high, the chalk board at the front of the room.

At which point it occurred to me: I don’t know how I would have made it through school without glasses. Indeed, so important is vision to school that our kindergartners are required to have an eye exam as part of their enrollment in public school.

If education is a critical component in combating poverty, so too is optometry. I’m fortunate on several counts. First, I live in a country with plenty of eye doctors, and I grew up in a family that had the means to take me to see one. I also was part of an education system that had plenty of books. Being nearsighted, even without glasses I still could have read anything up close. Without glasses, school would have been harder and I surely would not have done as well. But as long as I had access to books, I could have gotten the information I couldn’t see on the board.

But what of children in places that lack both optometrists and text books? Or children who simply lack access to those things? Or children who are farsighted and can’t see their books? I don’t know the percentage of children who need vision correction, but I’m guessing it’s not insignificant. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of children in one-room schools around the world, with or without text books, often without desks or even chairs, looking at a teacher and a board at the front of the room. But how many of the children in those pictures were wearing glasses? One more obstacle I’ve never really considered.

-Nancy Michaelis