Dr Kalpa Negiloni, BS Opt, MSc Psychology, PhD

Senior Research Optometrist, Medical Research Foundation, Sankara Nethralaya, India


Visual skills are vital for effective reading and learning. It is estimated that around 80% of learning is through eyes. Reading, writing, chalkboard task, playing, and use of electronic devices such as computers, tablets, or mobile phones are visual tasks that a child performs daily. Children spend maximum time at school which is almost one-third time in a day. As children progress through their education, there is an increase in demand on their visual abilities by virtue of increase in study time, reading smaller fonts, and using e-gadgets. Any insult to the visual pathway can inhibit a child from performing to his maximum potential.

What is the visual demand in their classroom? What best level of vision can match this school classroom demand?? – Below is my take on these questions.

The problem! – Evidence on existing classroom visual environment from the literature

The hallmark report on “The Co-ordinated Classroom” by Darell Boyd Harmon (1951) explicates how glare, inadequate light distribution, shadow, and desks positions affect a child’s physiological and psychological well-being in their classroom environment.1 Figure (1) below shows the normal and abnormal sitting posture of a child performing a visual task under optimal and poor lighting levels on the desk, respectively.

Figure 1. Effect of poor lighting in desks on sitting posture of a child.

(Image taken from Reference 1)


The distance and near visual task demand in classrooms across various countries2-6 with a similar study design is summarised in Figure 2. This highlights the presence of the increased visual task demand in school classrooms and the need for appropriate classroom environmental modifications with additional focus on the inclusion of children with mild to moderate visual impairment.




Figure 2. (A) Summary of the distance and near visual task demand in school classrooms

(B) Pictorial representation of distance visual demand on a logMAR visual acuity chart:

If a child has 6/6 (in green) vision, which is considered normal or target vision, the school classrooms had a range of increased distance visual demand as per the studies (in red). This indicates that if a child has reduced vision (worse than acuity levels in red), it will be difficult to meet the demand of writing on chalkboard.

Based on our key work on understanding the visual demand in school classrooms7, we noted an increase in chalkboard visual task demand as the child moves from front to back desk position in a classroom.  The lighting levels on the student’s desk were found to deviate from the standard norms. It is important to assess the classroom environmental factors such as lighting and contrast levels on the chalkboard and reading materials to aid visual comfort while performing tasks.

The Solution! Small changes make big impact for the beautiful little eyes of children

 I would like to recommend the following changes that can be applied for different tasks performed at different distances.



  1. Harmon DB. The co-ordinated classroom, a monograph. E Americal Seating company, 1949: Rev. 1951 (Available: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED034375; Last accessed: May 2021).
  2. Langford A, Hug T. Visual demands in elementary school. Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology & Strabismus. 2010;47(3):152-6.
  3. Narayanasamy S, Vincent SJ, Sampson GP, Wood JM. Visual demands in modern Australian primary school classrooms. Clinical and Experimental Optometry. 2016 May;99(3):233-40.
  4. Negiloni K, Ramani KK, Sudhir RR. Do school classrooms meet the visual requirements of children and recommended vision standards?. PloS one. 2017 Apr 3;12(4):e0174983.
  5. Azizan IA, Qi EY, Kaur S, Narayanasamy S. Visual acuity demands of different language mediums in modern primary school classrooms in Malaysia. F1000Research. 2019 Dec 27;8(2143):2143.
  6. Adams C, Leach S, Kresch YS, Brooks SE. Actual Visual Acuity Demands in the Classroom. Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology & Strabismus. 2021 Jan 1;58(1):48-54.
  7. Negiloni K, Ramani KK, Sudhir RR. Environmental factors in school classrooms: How they influence visual task demand on children. PloS one. 2019 Jan 10;14(1):e0210299.





She is currently a Senior Research Optometrist at the Medical Research Foundation, Sankara Nethralaya, India working on an Indo-European collaborative research on the development of a neuro-ocular device based on eye-tracking technology. She is also an Assistant Professor and research supervisor at The Sankara Nethralaya Academy and Elite School of Optometry.

Her research interests are development of innovative instruments in Optometry and Vision Science, Paediatric Optometry, Public health, and Low vision. She has several national and international peer-reviewed scientific and book chapter publications. She has also received several research awards. Her doctoral thesis was on understanding the environmental factors and visual requirements in Indian school classrooms. The key recommendations from her study were disseminated to the Schools through the Directorate of School Education and also shared with the public through national newspaper publications. She was instrumental in developing logMAR distance visual acuity charts in seven Indian languages and the work received the “Platinum award for the Best Research” from the prestigious All India Ophthalmological Society- Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.