The Department of Optometry at UKZN recently (4-5th July 2017) hosted OREA 2017, a symposium at Emperors palace in Johannesburg, South Africa, focussing on optometric research and education for Africa. The hosting of this symposium was motivated by the observation that many of the optometry programs across the continent are relatively new and have young faculty, without formal training in teaching and education strategies as well as the low research output and publication rates of academics.
Universities have for many years adopted curricula and content from developed nations and in many instances, local disease profiles are not adequately understood and covered in the training programmes. A socially accountable approach to education calls for curricula to be designed to meet the needs of the communities that the graduates will serve. This requires optometry programmes to reflect on and review their respective curricula.
“To meaningfully address the eye care needs in Africa,optometry needs a strong education sector to transform education so that we produce socially accountable graduates with knowledge, skills and competencies appropriate to their local contexts, calling for research-informed curricula. Academics and post graduate students must conduct and publish studies that help us better understand eye care needs within our context and produce relevant, evidence-based,innovative solutions in public health, vision science and clinical optometry” (Dr VR Moodley-project leader )
The profession of optometry has not previously had a conference focusing specifically on optometric education and research in Africa.The intended purpose of theOREA 2017 SYMPOSIUM was to host an inaugural meeting of academics from the optometric sector, aimed at enhancing the scholarship of optometric education and research capacity on the continent. The symposium funded and brought together academics and post graduate student representatives from different schools across Africa creating a space for the identification of common challenges, sharing of best practices and suggestions of enablers in research and education to shape optometry’s position in the new health science training landscape and significantly impact blindness and visual impairment statistics on the continent.
Education strategies were shared to initiate the process of curriculum transformation and 3 regional research groups were formed; SADC, West Africa and East Africa region. To commence the research collaboration, the regional groups identified priority research projects that will be collectively undertaken. Overall, the symposium was well received and the OREA 2017 Team were thanked by the delegates for their commitment to improving the quality of education and research on the continent and congratulated on hosting such a successful inaugural symposium. Some comments from delegates were:
“This was a very interesting symposium. The first I have ever attended and I got to learn so much.’’
‘’A great initiative from the staff of UKZN and we are hoping that we are going to have more of these conferences to help us move the teaching of optometry forward within our context.’’
The symposium created a much-needed platform for African researchers and academics, novice and experienced, to engage in academic discourse and debate around transformative optometric education. A significant outcome was a DECLARATION signed by all school representative which each took back to their respective institutions as a reminder of the joint commitment to Quality Optometric Education and Research in Africa.