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Training of Teachers of the Visually Impaired in Europe

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Prof. Dr Gojko Zovko, Croatia

Introduction: MRS MARIANNA BUULTJENS, Senior Lecturer, Moray House Institute of Education, Edinburgh, UK

The use of the term "competencies" may be new to some people here today, who are more used to conceptualizing course design as knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for a teacher of visually impaired children. A "competence" is an ability to carry out a specified task or activity to pre-determined standards of attainment. A competencies-based approach means describing what the student will know and be able to do at the end of the course and teaching practice, rather than simply stating the content of the course.

Both approaches are necessary. It is like approaching the task from both ends: if one is clear about the desired outcomes or competencies for those doing the course, it will help refine and develop the content and structure of the course.

Is a competencies-based approach new in the world of training teachers of the visually impaired? Not at all. It has been common in general education in the U.S.A. since the fifties and a book to which I will be referring frequently, called "Competency Based Curriculum for Teachers of the Visually Handicapped: A National Study" by Susan J. Spungin, was published in 1977. The purpose of Spungin's study was to identify from practitioners and the many programmes available, what were the necessary or desired competencies for a teacher of the visually impaired.

With your papers for this conference you were sent a copy of a UK Working Party paper on: "Competences required by a Teacher of the Visually Impaired" (SENTC, see Appendix A). This working party had a dual function: both to identify necessary competencies but also, thereby, to enable and ensure comparability across teacher training courses in the UK: comparability not uniformity. In the introduction to the list of competencies (SENTC, p66) the many and varying roles of a teacher of the visually impaired are listed. Spungin (1977) describes the different settings in which a teacher may work: residential school (p1); cooperative class (p3); resource room (p3); itinerant teacher (p3); teacher consultant (p4). The roles and types of provision will vary from country to country but this raises an important issue. When the SENTC Working Party was consulting on the desired competencies, there were several responses from very experienced practitioners, including head teachers, who said that they could not say that they had all these competencies and that those they had were at varyin levels.

The implication for teacher trainers is that they are faced with a dilemma. Identifying all desirable competencies may be possible, but are all those competencies achievable or necessary for all students and do they all need to be achieved to the same standard? It is obvious that a science teacher in a secondary residential school will need some different competencies from an itinerant/ peripatetic teacher of pre-school or primary school children. These are issues that still face course designers and deliverers. From the summary of information gained from the questionnaires completed by the participants of this ICEVI Workshop, the majority of courses for teachers of the visually impaired across Europe are for students undertaking initial teacher training. In her introduction to the roles and competencies of a teacher of the visually impaired, Spungin says: "To prepare the teacher of the visually handicapped for these various roles, competencies in the following areas must be assumed:..." (Spungin, 1977 p5). These "assumed" competencies are those necessary for any teacher.

I have included in my handout a copy of a leaflet which defines the competencies currently expected of classroom or subject teachers in the first two years of their teaching career in Scotland (GTC, see Appendix B). For those designing and delivering courses of initial training, a pathway of progression from the generic teaching competencies to the specialist skills will need to be described. Spungin gives some useful examples of how this may be done (Spungin, 1977, pp 15-18 and elsewhere).

At this point I will stop and present you with topics for discussion arising out of my introduction to "desirable competencies".

Discussion topics

  1. In the SENTC Working Party Draft Report pp 66-68, competencies for a teacher of the visually impaired are listed.
    1. Do you agree with all the competencies listed?
    2. Are there any missing which you think should be included?
  2. "To prepare the teacher of the visually handicapped for these various roles, competencies in the following areas must be assumed:....." (Spungin, 1977, p5).
    1. How do those of you involved in initial teacher training ensure that your students have the basic competencies on which to build the specialist competencies for teaching the visually impaired?
    2. How do those of you providing specialist training for experienced teachers ensure that they have all the basic competencies?
    1. Should all students achieve all the competencies or should there be the opportunity for choice and specialisation?
    2. Should all competencies be at the same standard/level?
  3. Do you think that comparability between teacher training courses throughout Europe is desirable?
    1. If yes, would basing it on the "desired competencies" be a potential first step;?
    2. Give suggestions on how and who could undertake such a task.



Additional information:
from the SENTC Working Party Draft Report, pp66-68: Teachers of children with visual impairment

Training outcomes and Quality Assurance

Teachers who receive specialist training in the field of visual impairment require competence in both the generic areas in special educational needs and the specialist area of visual impairment. The generic component will relate directly to that of visual impairment and provide a broad context in which it can be studied.

This document deals solely with the competencies needed in visual impairment. It should be noted that courses will take account of the fact that teachers of visually impaired children and young people will work across the whole age range from pre-school to adult life in a variety of educational institutions, i.e. special schools/classes, units in mainstream schools or colleges, resource centres in mainstream schools or colleges. They may also work as part of a peripatetic service and visit children in their homes.

In carrying out their roles, they will be called upon to meet the needs of those for whom the effect of their visual impairment ranges from total blindness to limited but useful vision.

These teachers will be:

Competencies required by a teacher of the visually impaired:

The teacher should be able to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of:

1. current national developments in curriculum and assessment and their implications for learners with a visual impairment.

2. the anatomy and physiology of visual functions in normal development.

3. the implications of visual impairment on physical, cognitive, emotional, social and language development.

4. the educational implications of the pathology and treatment of eye diseases and conditions.

5. the significance of visual impairment for those with severe learning difficulties of multiple impairments.

6. the principles of assessment of functional vision.

7. an awareness of the importance of mobility training.

8. appropriate strategies to enhance functional vision.

9. appropriate equipment and techniques in the area of communication technology for those with a visual impairment.

10. the different roles of a teacher in a special school, a peripatetic teacher or a resource teacher in a mainstream school or college.

11. the range and functions of support services available to those with a visual impairment.

The teacher should be able to demonstrate an ability to:

1. carry out an appropriate assessment of the needs of pupils with a visual impairment and to present a report of that assessment, taking note of any potential audience (such an assessment should include the use of developmental scales and/or orientation and mobility checklists).

2. evaluate competing demands in the planning of the curriculum for a visually impaired student e.g. the implications of including time for mobility training upon other areas of the curriculum.

3. design and implement appropriate curricula, taking into account the individual learner's needs, age, culture and stage in education.

4. design, produce, present and evaluate material in the appropriate medium, e.g. tactile diagrams, Braille, size, and environmental conditions for students, using both traditional methods and new technology.

5. choose and employ appropriate methods of teaching and appropriate methods of communication for each student with a visual impairment, including those with multiple or dual sensory impairment.

6. monitor and evaluate the implementation of individual student programmes.

7. use materials designed to evaluate and train residual vision.

8. co-operate with a qualified mobility specialist in the design and delivery of mobility programmes.

9. employ appropriate strategies for teaching literacy and numeracy to the young Braille print user and the young Braille user.

10. use techniques for teaching Braille to all students who need it.

11. read and write Braille to acceptable standards.

12. assess and plan for the application of micro technology in meeting the needs of students with a visual impairment.

13. use a range of hardware and software and employ criteria for evaluating usefulness and appropriateness.

14. establish and use network resources, both learning material in schools and other centres.

15. advise and help colleagues on the choice and implementation of appropriate curricula (this should include the use of appropriate technology to promote communication, the production of materials in a range of media, concept learning and access to information).

16. lead training sessions for teachers, non-teaching assistants, parents and relevant others in the field of visual impairment.

17. assist parents and learners (where appropriate) to participate in the decision making process.

18. support the integration of a visually impaired student into the community.

19. demonstrate the above competencies in relation to special and mainstream schools and in a peripatetic advisory role.



The participants agreed on the importance as well as the contents of the lists of desired competencies of teachers of the visually impaired. Possible additions to this list that were mentioned are

For other possible additions to the above-mentioned lists of competencies, see page *** for the lists of knowledge, skills and attitudes from the Chester College Seminar Report, 1984, which was distributed by the chairperson of this session, Prof. Dr Gojko Zovko.

It was established that there are great differences in the training of special teachers: in most West European countries this training is taken as an addition to ordinary teacher training as compared; in a number of Central and Eastern European countries there are separate teacher training courses for special teachers which generally take four years. This implies that competencies already present at the start of the training course differ fundamentally and this has considerable consequences for the curriculum.

A competence-based model can be compared to a pyramid: basic teaching competencies at the base, then competencies in special education and finally specialisation in teaching the visually impaired. Further specialisation in teaching different aspects of educating the visually impaired is possible (see working session 3 for further information).

The general opinion is that all new graduates should have a number of basic competencies and possibly one or several specialisations. The latter would depend on the student's personal interest and job opportunities (see working session 3).

It was queried whether it would be sensible to train students for two different specialisations of special education simultaneously, e.g. for visually impaired and mentally retarded. This would probably affect the quality of the training.

Special attention should be given to the many teachers in schools for visually impaired children who do not have all the required competencies because these were not included the curriculum when these teachers were trained. These teachers often determine the level of education at the schools and block new developments.

There was an in-depth discussion on whether comparability of teacher training courses throughout Europe would be desirable. The first point that was made is that comparability is not the same as uniformity. The general view is that it would be good to aim towards having comparable general training courses throughout Europe, possible supplemented with adaptations, depending on what is required in the different countries. After all, visually impaired children throughout Europe have more in common than they differ.
Another point that was made is that all training courses should be flexible and open with regard to modifications, the changing needs of the visually impaired and the changing demands of society.


The competencies-based approach and, if necessary, the further development of competencies-based thinking on the curriculum for training teachers of the visually impaired is very valuable and fruitful.

Task to be carried out at a national level:
test the training curriculum for teachers of the visually impaired against the competencies included in the SENTC report and change and/or supplement the curriculum on the basis of the findings.


Appendix 1

List of knowledge, skills and attitudes as included in the Chester College Seminar Report 1984 (circulated by the Chairperson of Working Session 1, Prof. Dr Gojko Zovko).

  1. At initial training level
  2. Knowledge of:

    - how to link learning processes to curriculum methods

    - the teacher's role and sphere of influence

    - the dynamic nature of human/child development and environmental effects

    - factors, including handicapping conditions, which affect how children lean

    - support services and how to obtain help

    - conditions for successful learning including classroom organisation and atmosphere

    - the construction of individual learning programmes

    - mainstream curriculum across subjects

    - curriculum theory and models of curriculum development

    - the range of human ability and individual differences

    - the concept of special educational needs

    - good practice from countries other than one's own

    - a range of resources

    - the school as an agent, facilitating or impeding learning

    - assessment techniques and instruments

    - terminology from home and abroad

    - the importance of structure in learning

    - relationships between home, school and community

    - the educational system and how it operates

    - the educational implications of handicap and technological aids

    - the philosophy and practice of integration

    - conceptual development in children as opposed to narrow subject specialism

    - the policy framework within which the teacher is operating.


    - observation and ad hoc diagnosis leading to the development of pupil profiles

    - communicating with children, teachers, parents and other professionals

    - devising individualised programmes based on assessment, and evaluating results

    - using different styles and approaches to teaching pupils with learning difficulties

    - establishing a 'good pedagogical climate'

    - using expressive arts as a medium of learning

    - identifying and using available resources appropriately.

    Attitudes (this list was considered to refer to all levels)

    - That in a multi-cultural society, school and education are for all and that each child has a right to an appropriate education, including the handicapped.

    - That to be different is normal and that each person is an individual worthy of respect, including his/her parents and family.

    - That children should have some autonomy in what and how they learn.

    - That education matters; that the teacher has an important role and that teachers, parents and pupils working together can improve the life of the child.

    - That all children benefit from being educated together - the handicapped and the non-handicapped.

    - That the teacher should be self-critical and aware, to be willing to debate, assess and change their contribution.

    - That the teacher should value the contributions made by others, including the parents.

    - That the teacher should show sensitivity to the development of the child's potential and the need to emancipate him/her from the effects of handicap.

    - That the teacher should show a critical appraisal of concepts of handicap and 'special education'.

    - That teachers should be optimistic and move away from a passive determinism.

  3. At in-service level
  4. Knowledge of:

    - child development as opposed to subject knowledge only

    - the special education system and legislation

    - handicapping conditions and specific learning difficulties

    - individualised programmes

    - specific support services available to him/her

    - work of other professionals

    - learning processes and factors which affect them

    - how to work as a member of a multi-professional team, including parents

    - the context of school and community

    - their own school and organisation

    - children's interest and out of school activities


    - additional skills in communicating with pupils, parents, colleagues and other adults

    - to effect a match between curriculum and learner

    - to prepare to receive a handicapped child into school by advance planning

    - to be an agent of change

    - to design individualised instruction so that the special child can participate in the group activities

    - to use behaviour modification techniques

    - to use positive profiling

    - to translate the learning problems of the child to learning activities

    - to analyze one's own skills and share experience

    - to take part in cooperative teaching

    - to handle the discrepancies between various expectations regarding the child

    - to employ child advocacy

    - to facilitate the development of language across the curriculum\

    - to teach specific language skills

    - to improve skills of recording and reporting.


    Those listed at initial level, plus:

    - belief in one's ability to learn at any age

    - being prepared to admit the need for help and being able to accept it

    - appreciating the importance of positive feedback in shaping a pupil's self esteem

    - belief in pupil's right to the whole curriculum

    - a disposition to be flexible in timetabling

  5. At specialised training level
  6. Knowledge of:

    - items as listed in levels A and B but at greater depth. In some cases a high degree of expertise in a specific area of handicap

    - an overview of special educational provision at national and international level

    - research and literature and reference sources

    - how to effect change in school policy and climate

    - the value of all areas of the curriculum

    - resources and the latest technological advances

    - how integration can be maximised

    - how to effect attitude change in individuals and society

    - constraints within which the school and the teachers must work

    - school structure and management


    - to work in a team with others

    - to facilitate transfer from special to ordinary school or from special unit to ordinary class

    - of liaison

    - of interpersonal and counselling interaction

    - to organise suitable in -service work for regular class teachers

    - of using microcomputers

    - have manifest, relevant teaching skills and ability to pass these on to other teachers

    - to tolerate conflict and stress

    - to work closely with therapist and other experts and be a co -therapist

    - to work with post 16's in further and continuing education

    - to capitalize on and use the knowledge and experience of the handicapped.


    as for levels A and B.


Appendix 2

Teaching competencies, extracts from Guidelines for Teacher Training Courses, the Scottish Office Education Department, 1993


The Department is pleased to take the opportunity of the distribution by the General Teaching Council For Scotland of "Assessing Probationers" to make available to all schools information about the competences which will be expected in future of beginner teachers.

The Department issued revised guidelines for initial teacher training courses in January this year. The new guidelines are designed to help training institutions to provide courses which are more focused than before on the skills required of the newly qualified teacher in the classroom. The core competences set out in the guidelines, and reproduced in this booklet, refer, however, not only to practical skills but also to knowledge, understanding, critical thinking and positive attitudes. Although initially aimed at the student, the competences offer a basis of skills and qualities which could be further developed during the probation period thereafter.

The Scottish Office
Education Department
New St. Andrew's House

December 1993


2.1 Competences relating to Subject and Content of Teaching

The new teacher should be able to:

2.2 Competences relating to the Classroom

2.2.1 Communication

The teacher should be able to:

2.2.2 Methodology

The new teacher should be able to:

2.2.3 Class Management

The new teacher should have knowledge of the principles which lie behind the keeping of good discipline and should be able to:

2.2.4 Assessment

The teacher should:

2.3 Competences relating to the School

The teacher should:

2.4 Competences related to Professionalism

The new teacher should:

However, professionalism implies more than an mere series of competences. It also implies a set of attitudes which have particular power in that they are communicated to those being taught:

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