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Whiteboards could damage kids and teachers' eyesight

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Interactive whiteboards that are used in schools and colleges across the UK could potentially cause eyesight damage due to a lack of basic government guidelines.

According to an investigation carried out by the BBC, many of the devices used by teachers and school children do not carry adequate warnings about the "dazzle effect" of the light projected.

Whiteboards, which allow teachers to interact with computer desktops, have become increasingly popular in classrooms with the government investing millions of pounds into the technology.

Although the dazzle effect projected from the equipment's beam will be too strong for most people to stare into for very long, the Health and Safety Eexcutive (HSE), which offers guidelines here, warns that a user's peripheral retina could still be overexposed even when not looking directly into the beam.

It advises that, where ever possible, a user should keep their backs to the projector beam to avoid overexposing their eyes.

It says that users "should make sure that direct beam viewing of the optical output from this equipment is both controlled and restricted to no more than a few tens of seconds at a time".

It also suggests that the light projected from whiteboards should be set at no more than 1500 lumens.

A lumen is the unit of "luminous flux" which is based on the perceived power of light.

National Union of Teachers representative Mike Harrison told the BBC that he carried out a straw poll in Wiltshire and found that only a small number of people have been told how to safely use the kit.

He added: "It's very difficult to avoid the beam because if you are standing in front and demonstrating a point to the class you immediately want to turn round to know that they are aware of what you are saying, rather than ducking out of the beam. You want to stay there and face the class."

Sam Livermore, owner of Selectasize which has supplied teaching aids to schools for more than 30 years, told the BBC that he has attempted to convince the government to issue whiteboard warnings for several years without success.

He said: "My concern is there are 250,000 whiteboards in the UK used on a daily basis in our schools and five million students."

Speaking to The Register, Livermore said that successive education ministers had failed to respond positively to his recommendations.

He added that the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) welcomed his suggestion to push for the adoption of warnings on all whiteboard kit, but that it was struggling to bring that awareness to the education ministry.

Although guidelines can be found online, Livermore pointed out that warnings should be clearly displayed with all kit issued to schools and colleges.

Last week, under Gordon Brown's newly formed Labour government, the Department for Education and Skills was renamed the Department for Children, Schools, and Families with Ed Balls MP at the helm.

In a statement about the department's makeover, the DCSF said it will "allow us to respond to new challenges that will affect children and families: demographic and socio-economic change; developing technology; and increasing global competition".

According to the Beeb, which also spoke to Dr Christopher Hull - a leading eye expert from City University - little research has been carried out on the potential harmful effects whiteboards may pose to a users' eyesight.

He said:

"What little evidence we have indicates misuse of whiteboards is likely to cause only non-permanent changes. But, in the meantime, there is no reason not to put safety notices up." ®

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