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Training of Teachers of the Visually Impaired in Europe

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DR HERMAN A.A.GRESNIGT, European Chairman ICEVI, the Netherlands

During the closing session the chairpersons of the four working sessions each presented a brief summary/personal impression of their particular session. The main points of the formal and informal discussions were summarised by Juliet Stone.

Summaries of the four Working Sessions


PROF DR GOJKO ZOVKO, chairperson Working Session 1

We agreed with the suggested list of competencies. New points that were mentioned were

In most countries teachers are first trained for teaching in regular schools, followed by specialisation for special teacher of the visually impaired. Only some countries have a special training programme for teachers for the visually impaired. The biggest problem in ensuring the basic competencies is the older teachers who were trained at a time that there was no competencies-based curriculum. Usually there is no such problem for newly qualified teachers or for those who have received in-service training. We think that no teacher will ever have all the competencies, because students have different skills and abilities. It would be unreasonable to expect everybody to master all the competencies.

In accordance with the trend of cooperation, there is a need for a European model of teacher training courses; this does not imply "uniformity" but "comparability". Every country may, to some extent, modify this basic model to adapt it to their specific situation. Ideally we should have the same, basic curriculum in the whole of Europe; student exchanges would then also be possible.

Personal remark:
We should not forget that a visually impaired child is first of all a child like any other so-called "normal" child. This means that the visually impaired child has the same characteristics and needs as other children. In addition, it has a number of additional, specific characteristics as a result of the visually impairment; these may have implications for the visually impaired child's personality and this should be recognised and understood by teachers of the visually impaired.


MRS KRISZTINA KOV�CS, chairperson Working Session 2

This workshop was a real challenge for us. I was amazed about how many different systems exist in Europe: pre-service, in-service, part-time, full-time, distant learning, face-to-face, tutorial, post-graduate, undergraduate, and so on. Are we divided by all these differences? After this workshop I am really convinced that the answer is "no". Diversity and variation give us freedom and add colour to our professional life. It is like spices in food or the bouquet of a wine. This is why our profession - and I truly believe that it is a profession - is so interesting. Among all the variations there are also many points in common. The main thing we all have in common is, besides our aims, our responsibility. I could feel that we all think exactly the same about responsibility. We, as trainers of teachers of the blind and visually impaired, are catalysts : knowledge, attitude, competency, methodology and affection towards people with visual impairments are transferred to the students by us. Even if some decisions and regulations are imposed by the government, most of the important issues related to the education of visually impaired children are decided in college auditoriums and seminar rooms. And this is why the greatest responsibility is in our hands.
One more thing that shocked me, but at the same time made me very happy: I did not hear a word about financial barriers! This, of course, does not mean that there are no financial problems, but it rather means that we are able to stay above this problem and concentrate on the core of education. I believe in the future and I believe that in some ten or twenty years East and West will be mere geographical categories. Please, share my dream!


PROF DR HELGA WEINL�DER, chairperson Working Session 3

A workshop on teacher training surely has to discuss what teachers need to know and need to be able to do, as well as to present the formal aspects and methods used in teacher training in different countries. This has been done in working sessions I and II. Quite a different point of view was taken in working session III which I shall comment on now: it was the aim to look at the special needs of visually impaired persons which have to be met. I am glad that I have to present the outcomes of this group discussion, because this topic is very close to what I feel is the centre of what we are doing.

Concerning the teachers' needs, there have been stated large difference between countries, but concerning the visually impaired persons' needs, the "specific areas", there was general agreement: the specifics are necessary for the visually impaired person's adaptation to life, and they are specific in that they can be and should be taught to visually impaired persons - as opposed to general population where the respective skills are either not necessary or acquired by incidental learning. The specifics are skills which can help with academic learning and may be - in later life or in the integration in a regular school - prerequisites to mutual communication and a self-reliant life. They are different from academic subjects and geared towards the person's independence.

The recent changes in awareness and new challenges like integration and new technologies have led us to rethink our traditional teacher education.

Nina Hummel and her colleagues have given us a list of such specifics and have shown us how they are dealing with them in Warsaw. For some of the areas (e.g. Orientation and Mobility), training methods have been developed, for others (e.g. Social Interaction) there are only first approaches and further elaboration is needed. Some are easily observable (Daily Living Skills), some are more of a personal style (Self-Concept, Social Behaviour) and, with that, more difficult to notice and to assess.
It was an open question, however,

The answer will differ according to the cultural background, the legal possibilities, and the administrative settings of the different countries.

In my opinion, the "specialities" are needs of visually impaired persons which are easily forgotten but which we have to keep in mind. Sure, the teacher of visually impaired persons should have a broad base of general knowledge which applies to the education of blind and partially sighted students. But he should also be aware that he can never be competent in all of these areas like a professional with the specialization. What might be a good beginning in one country and with that the start of a new development, can be a drawback - perhaps just to save money - in another country.
The specialities are important areas which we would like to be integral parts of the education. This idea of an integration into the general education, however, may lead to a total neglect or to a treatment in a too casual a form without a concept for the application in later life.

In any case, the specifics have to be kept in mind when programmes are developed and I think this could be one of the topics of further workshops:

A whole list of specifics is there: how to deal with them, to integrate the contents without the loss of a competent application, that could be an important topic for the future.


DR FRANS MEIJERS, chairperson Working Session 4

During our workshop some of us have served as interpreters to other colleagues, whose proficiency in foreign languages is not sufficient. Translating for others is a labour of love. I find that these very useful activities are given a marginal position by us and I think that is wrong. Taking the time for translation slows down the discussions. I know from experience as a member of an international organization that that is beneficial for us all. On top of that we play fair to the interpreters!

There is another process of translation going on here. Not only do we translate from language to language, we also translate from culture to culture. Although we live on the same continent, our histories are different and so are our cultures. Those different backgrounds makes understanding difficult. My remarks earlier on the international motivation of people rather than the external motivation can only be understood against the background of a capitalist, individualist society.
I strongly advocate that on future occasions we take more time for translations: from tongue to tongue and from culture to culture.

Much attention has been given during this workshop on how to train our teachers and on the competencies they should have. Rather less attention has been given as to how these teachers learn. They are adults, some pre-service, some in-service. That leads us to interesting methodological questions for which I ask focus in future workshops.

On a final note I can say that I fully agree with our colleague Gerti Jaritz from Austria. When I asked her: what are we all looking for, here in Budapest?, her answer was: we are all looking for orientation on possibilities. I fully agree with her.


MRS JULIET STONE, member ICEVI European Committee

I have a horrible feeling today. I am afraid that some of you will have very bad memories of me. If in a few days time you are ill with the bad cold I have had over the days of the Workshop, I am very sorry. Particularly after what Franz said this morning. He clearly intends us to get out of the car, train or plane and start working.

I have learnt a great deal in this workshop. I know much more about the training systems, models, curricula and delivery of the training of teachers all over Europe. I thank the plenary speakers and the workshop leaders and secretaries for all their hard work. They have helped make this workshop a very stimulating one.

But as in every conference, it is the discussion at coffee breaks, meal times and so on that is also valuable. Some points have come up in these discussions several times and I thought it was useful to highlight these.

Firstly, we have focused very much on what we think a teacher of children and young people with a visual impairment should know and be able to do. We seem to have agreed that there is a basic core of knowledge and skills that teachers should have. This seems a good basic for:

  1. future cooperation between us for providing support, topic content, materials and videos for our courses
  2. we can present this to our administrators and policy makers and we can use the statement: 'All Europe agrees that teachers need to know...'

Ideal versus reality

One of the most heart warming themes of this conference has been the obvious commitment from all of us here to the training of teachers of children with a visual impairment and the efforts that everyone is making to achieve high standards. Speakers and workshop discussions have put forward high ideals for ourselves as trainers and for students as future teachers. But of course we face reality: financial restrictions, Krisztina Kov�cs has already mentioned these, the policies to education and teacher training of our governments, and the time we are allowed for our courses, some short and some long. This is perhaps where ICEVI Europe and our networking (and E-mail) can support each of us as we try to reach the ideal in our own situation.

Training needs

During this workshop we have discovered that there is a variety of students who are training in visual impairment, some courses have experienced teachers, some of us are providing a specialist input into initial teacher training, some of us train teachers for general disabilities and then specialisation's. What we agreed was that teachers of all ages should have access to the learning cycle to be able to update their knowledge and skills, and to develop self-evaluation.

There has been a change in provision over the last twenty years. There are fewer special schools and many of the ones that still exist have found a change in the pupils they admit. There are many more pupils receiving their education in mainstream schools and on the other hand, an increasing number of pupils with additional and multiple disabilities.
As trainers, we need to be open to the new training needs of teachers and be flexible and open-minded in meeting these needs.

Theory and practice

I was glad to hear that all of us have a commitment to sound theory and good practice. We need to have both. Teachers need to know what to do, but they also need to know why they are doing it. Only in this way can they respond to the changing demands of their profession.


Another theme that was mentioned over and over again was how we need to be role models for our students. If we are creative teachers ourselves, using a variety of approaches, this will give our teachers the confident to be creative. We have talked about interactive learning - about lectures, practical work, seminars, tutorials, the use of videos and of course the importance of our students working with children who are visually impaired alongside experienced colleagues.


One more thing that has been mentioned by many people is the connection between teacher training and research - both the research of the tutors and that of students.
Another area of cooperation and collaboration perhaps.

I get very many questionnaires from students in the United Kingdom and abroad who are following general courses, who expect me to explain how to teach blind children through answering their questions. I would be much happier to spend time on collecting information and sending it to Gerti's or Rolf's students knowing that it really was going to be useful.


Another major theme that has come through the workshop and coffee breaks is our support to our students.

Solveig Sj�stedt talked about belonging to a minority - being a Swedish speaking Finnish. In our field of work we all belong to a minority. We have moved from mainstream education into special education - a much smaller field. Then into the very small world of visual impairment - and now we are in the tiny corner of training teachers of pupils with visual impairments.

Our students too have moved into a small field of education. We perhaps need to support our students more in this situation.

We talked about their cycle of learning - and ours too. We wanted to increase the opportunity for teachers of all ages and all levels to join the learning cycle. This would seen an important aim - to provide access to education and further professional training to as many people as possible.

So there are many areas for cooperation and collaboration and a decision seems to have been made for another workshop.

Several people have talked about the need for us to be 'proud and humble'. That's a good phrase. It reminds me of a story that Phil Hatlen told some years ago. I have changed the story quite a bit and would like to tell it to you now.
When you meet someone new and you are asked 'What is your job?' you probably answer 'I train teachers to teach blind children'. The response you get is: 'Oh, how marvellous. What a wonderful person you must be - such important work.'
If you are like me you say 'Oh no, it's just a job - it's nothing special really'.

What we should be saying is: 'Yes, it's important work. I had to study hard and train for a very long time to be able to do it. It's a challenging job and I need a lot of skills to do it'.

So at our conference dinner tonight, perhaps we could all practice saying this and raise the status not only ourselves, but our students and the children with whom we work.



We have reached the end of this workshop. In my opinion it was a useful and constructive workshop. I am impressed by the high level of involvement and the quantity and quality of expertise of all participants. You are a group with a very high potential. Most of the objectives I had expressed in my opening speech have been realised:

Maybe some more attention could have been paid to the role that teacher training colleges/universities can have as a change agents with regard to the education of the visually impaired as well as their role as facilitator of ongoing training of teachers and other professionals.

If there is to be another workshop in this field, it should be less general and more focused on one or two topics. On the basis of the outcomes of this workshop I feel that the role of the teacher training colleges/universities as change agent and facilitator of ongoing training/retraining of teachers and other professionals should be explored in greater depth. In which way should the college/university staff be equipped to cope with these roles, how to equip the student training and what are the implications for the relationship with the worker's field, etc.
We all seem to agree that a second workshop would be useful and that it should preferably be organised in the near future.

In order to build on what we have achieved over the past few days it would be best if the group of people participated in a second workshop; otherwise there would be a risk of the second workshop being a repetition of this workshop.

It has been decided to hold a second workshop in the spring of 1999, again in a Central or Eastern European country (financial reasons). Participants are invited to submit proposals concerning a venue to the European Chairperson of ICEVI.

Mirela Arion, Marianna Buultjens, Rolf Lund and Ingrid Zolgan are invited to act as a sounding board group with regard to the determining the programme and the working methods of this second workshop.

Two more decisions were made:

Finally, I would like to thank our host, Judith Brezovay and her staff, for the hospitality we received at her school. I would also like to thank Krisztina Kov�cs for her efforts as regards the organisational preparation of the workshop. They have managed to create an inspiring atmosphere. On behalf of all participants a heartfelt thanks.

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