Why clear face masks are critical to “leave no child behind”: countering the impact of COVID-19 on learning and teaching in daycares and schools
Education is one of the most critical factors in human development. Ask any parent and they will tell you that education for their children is a top priority.
The World Bank reports that: “Education is a powerful driver of development and one of the strongest instruments for reducing poverty and improving health, gender equality, peace, and stability.”1. Goal 4 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals aims to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education”.
Unfortunately, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are making education less inclusive and leaving many children behind.
Students with hearing loss
Hearing is essential for a child’s speech and language development, cognitive abilities and academic performance2. Audiologists indicate that a child with only mild hearing loss can miss 25%-40% of speech in the classroom3. For moderate hearing loss, it can be as high as 50%. A child that receives no treatment for hearing loss can fall behind other students by one to four grade levels or end up dropping out4. The WHO estimates that 34 million children have disabling hearing loss (moderate to profound hearing loss)5; that number of children increases to 102 million if you include mild hearing loss6.
In response to the coronavirus, governments, schools, school boards and daycares around the world have made wearing masks mandatory for educators and often for the children themselves. While this is an effective and proven response to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the masks typically worn by teachers are opaque and muffle the speaker’s voice.
When teachers wear opaque face masks, children with normal hearing can sometimes struggle to hear their voices. Research shows that “although lip reading is used most extensively by deaf and hard-of-hearing people, most people with normal hearing process some speech information from sight of the moving mouth”7. For children with hearing loss, the impact of opaque masks is greatly exacerbated: muffled voices and the inability to read their teachers’ lips or see facial expressions make it nearly impossible for these children to hear their teacher, even for those children who wear hearing aids.
This means that children, in particular the most vulnerable children — those with disabilities — are being left behind and may lose out on a critical period of speech development and learning. It is also very common that children with hearing loss, especially those with mild hearing loss, go undetected for years, often late into adulthood.
From our own experience, over the past few years World Wide Hearing Foundation International and earAccess have screened a combined total of over 150,000 children in daycares in schools in Canada, Peru, Guatemala, Vietnam and the Philippines. Results systematically showed that at least 1-3 children per class had previously undiagnosed hearing loss and/or another learning disability.
The implications of these findings is that the only way to ensure that all children are understanding their teachers are for teachers to wear see-through or transparent face masks that enable children to see their teacher’s lips and better understand speech.
Teachers & educators with hearing loss
In our experience running large screening campaigns in schools, the largest numbers of diagnosed hearing loss are found amongst teachers themselves. Teachers who struggle to hear their students who wear opaque face masks can also have a negative impact on the quality of the education in the classroom and can lead to misunderstandings and frustration. Therefore, for school-based settings that require students to wear face masks, it is equally important that the students themselves wear clear face masks allowing their colleagues and their teacher to read their lips and better communicate.
Transparent face masks that enable children to better understand their teachers and that ensure that teachers are hearing their students are a key solution to the issues of inclusivity and education.
The launch of Canamasq™, a breakthrough non-medical protective mask that solves common issues related to traditional face coverings, was meant as a solution. Above all, Canamasq™ helps users be more easily understood, thanks to its transparent mouth feature, heat-reducing technology and anti-fog coating; non-medical masks are those generally used by the public and do not require Health Canada certification.
“Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, people who wear face masks in professional settings have all said communication is difficult – with those hard of hearing, with children and with each other,” explained Audra Renyi, Founder and CEO of earAccess Inc.
“Canamasq solves the communication problem by making the mask wearer’s expressions visible through a polyethylene window so that older people and those hard of hearing can lip read, and children can be reassured by a smile,” said Renyi. “There’s no more need to shout, repeat yourself or lift your mask to make yourself understood.”
Canamasq™ transparent face masks were specifically developed to respond to this challenge and ensure that children with and without hearing loss can read lips and hear their teachers.
Clear face masks are urgently needed to ensure inclusive education
Clear face masks — often referred to as smile masks or transparent face masks — are critical to ensuring that children do not fall behind in school and can achieve their full potential.
1Source: World Bank, 2020. worldbank.org “Education At-A-Glance”.
2Source: Schick et al., 2013; Spencer & Markschark, 2010).
3Source: Hearing Health Matters. “A mild hearing loss is not a mild problem”, Jane Madell, 2014. https://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearingandkids/2014/mild-hearing-loss-mild-problem/#:~:text=The%20speech%20signal%20is%20not,what%20happens%20in%20the%20classroom .
4Source: WHO, 2012; ASHA, 2018.
5Source: WHO Deafness and hearing loss, Fac Sheet: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss.
6Source: calculation based on relative number of children with disabling hearing loss vs. total population of people with disabling hearing loss. This ratio is then applied to the Global Burden of Disease estimates of 1.4 billion people with mild to profound hearing loss (see: https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/97/10/19-224683/en/).
7Woodhouse, L; Hickson, L; Dodd, B (2009). “Review of visual speech perception by hearing and hearing-impaired people: clinical implications”. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders. 44 (3): 253–70. doi:10.1080/13682820802090281. PMID 18821117.