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Training of Teachers of the Visually Impaired in Europe

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Methodological and organisational aspects of training of teachers of the visually impaired
Mrs Krisztina Kov�cs, Hungary

Introduction: DR HEATHER LABON MASON and MRS CHRISTINE ARTER, senior lecturers at the School of Education of the University of Birmingham, UK

Since 1981, the University of Birmingham has been training teachers of children and young people with a visual impairment through distance education. During this period of time over 800 teachers have been trained. These teachers work in a variety of educational settings and with a range of children and young people, for example

Many of these teachers have to take a mandatory course of training of one year full time equivalent eg two years part time within three years of being appointed to the school or service.

Structure of the course

1. Length

Two years (6 modules) with opportunity to continue studies to Masters level.

2. Components

The residential component builds upon

3. Assessment

(i) Academic

Student are continually assessed during the two years producing a portfolio of work for each of the six modules. The assessment activities challenge the student to:

(ii) Braille

All students are required to pass an examination in the writing of braille and to demonstrate a competence in the ability to read braille quickly, accurately and with comprehension. During the two years they are expected to demonstrate a level of competence in working with pupils who are blind and in preparing appropriate tactile materials.

(iii) Teaching competency

The university employs 'teaching placement' supervisors (mentors) who guide the student during the two years and are responsible for the final assessment of the student. The assessment takes into account:

Year 1 (unassessed) - students are required to teach for 17 days in another school or service. This is designed to give students experience in

4. Student support

The key element of distance education is the separation of teacher and learner, or of the learner from the educational institution. Distance education depends on materials which can be transmitted to students by written or recorded means and studied at a time and a place to suit the student.

Learning alone can be difficult, and the design of successful distance courses incorporates mechanisms for the active involvement of the learner and for 'live support'. There needs to be a balance of independent study with other activities, and there needs to be some human presence for the discussion of work. Without adequate support, the numbers of students dropping out of a course is likely to be high and can result in failure to acquire the necessary skills required by the specialist teacher.

Support for students studying on the course for teachers of the Visually Impaired

5. The advantages of training at a distance

Disadvantages of training at a distance

6. Implications for the future

There is no doubt that distance learning does provide a flexible and exciting way of providing educational opportunities for teachers to upgrade their professional qualifications.

It can be used for those teachers who wish to return to teaching following a period of absence from the profession (e.g. those who have been raising a family but may feel out of touch with the tremendous changes which have taken place during the last five years.)

Not only could teachers benefit from this approach to training but there are many associated professionals working alongside teachers who would perhaps like to have access to some of the modules relating to their area of interest. (e.g. educational psychologists, speech therapists. Training packages could also be made available for non teaching staff within schools.)

Distance learning also offers the opportunity for higher research degrees (to those students with appropriate experience and qualifications who do not have the opportunity to attend a University of their choice on a full or even part time basis. )

The exciting IT changes means that soon we will all be able to communicate easily and cheaply with one another. This is an area which deserves another workshop in the near future.

Other papers of interest

Mason, H.L. & Miller, C. (1991) Training teachers of children with special educational needs at a distance. In: Upton, G. (1991) Staff training and special educational needs. David Fulton Publishers.

Mason, H.L. & Miller, C. (1992) Training teachers of children with special educational needs. International Council for Distance Education Bulletin. Vol 28 pp 31 - 34

Mason, H.L. & Miller, C. (1992) Special Educational Needs: Issues in Teacher Training. Education Today. Vol 42 No 3 pp17-21

Mason, H.L. & Miller, C (1993) Teacher Training at a Distance Istruzione A Distanza (Italy, In print)

Lomas, J, Mason, H. l. & Miller C (1993) Distance Education: Professional Training for Special Educational Needs Open Learning (in print)

Tilstone, C. & Arter, C. (1994) Continuing Professional Development and Training. Meeting the needs of Regional Tutors and Mentors in Specialist Distance Education Courses: Approaches to Professional Development. Conference proceedings of the EDEN conference June 1994

Tilsone, C. & Arter, C. (1995) The professional needs of tutors and mentors of distance learning courses. Special Summer Issue 1995


  1. Do all teachers have to pass a braille exam?
  2. How are student supported in their learning?
  3. How do you assess the 'teaching skills' of your teachers?
  4. Is there a 'research' element to the training?


The discussions focused primarily on aspects of supporting and assessing students during their training. It is important to have a good balance of training (theory and practice) on the one hand and supervision and counselling the students with regard to their practical experiences on the other. Participants argued for problem-based learning rather than or in addition to too much theory: this approach would stimulate the students to increasingly look for more support and resources.
Strong emphasize was put on practical experience/practical work, if possible in different work settings. It is important to emphasize the relation between theory and practice and vice versa. Sometimes teachers and other professionals in the practical work setting need additional training for adequately supporting the students; after all, these are important learning situations for the students. Great importance is attached to a great diversity and variety of teaching methods such as group discussion, video, role play, self-reflection, self-evaluation, etc.
The cycle of learning: you hear, you apply, you reflect, you learn, then you know.

The lack of literature and resources in one's own language is a problem.
Question: Could ICEVI do something about this problem, e.g. raise funds for translation, solve problems as regards copy right?
One solution would be to stimulate students to learn at least one foreign language.

An important topic of the plenary discussion was the role the Internet could have in the dissemination and sharing of information and experience. It was agreed to explore the possibilities to this end after the workshop.

Assessment is generally considered to be very important, both with respect to the theoretical and practical aspects of the training. One of the questions that were raised was what should happen if a student fails the practical part? He/she cannot pass the exam. Students should be informed as early as possible if they do not have the required competencies, well before the final examination. In this context, it is important to train students in self-assessment and self-evaluation skills. The entire assessment process should be helpful to the students and enable them to evaluate their own performance and to build on their own experience. These skills are also very important once the students have graduated and they work as teachers.

Typical aspects of distant learning were hardly touched on during the discussion, probably because, apart from the UK, the participants do not have experience in this field.

Braille: learning how to read and write Braille is part of the curriculum in most but not all of the countries. There is often a separate Braille exam, albeit at a basic level without speed criteria. There is often not enough time and attention for the techniques of teaching Braille to blind pupils. Participants did not really see much point in common European standards in this field.

Research: research projects form part of the curricula of most of the colleges/universities and writing a thesis is obligatory. The case for small-action research as a way to build up a great deal of knowledge and experience was argued. The research outcomes could be made available in libraries to future students. It would be very valuable if results of research projects could be shared via the Internet.It would be interesting to research certain topics on an international level, for example by students from different countries.
Another experience: most students want to become a teacher, not a researcher. Nevertheless there are always student who have more affinity with research and they should be stimulated to pursue this interest.


Although there are differences between the participating countries with respect to format and organisation of the training of teachers of the visually impaired, there is a great deal of agreement with respect to the teaching methods used/to be developed, in particular problem-based learning, relation theory-practice, supervision of students.

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