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3. Opening session 1
3a) Welcome by Dr Herman A. A. Gresnigt, European Chairman ICEVI
Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends,
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you at this second workshop on Training of Teachers of the Visually Impaired, organised by the International Council for Education of people with Visual Impairment, ICEVI in Europe. A special welcome to the representatives of the Ministry of Education in our host country. We appreciate it very much that you spend some of your time on being our guest, by this gesture underlining the importance you attach to good education of children and youth with a visual impairment. I am very grateful that the Ministry of Education has accepted the patronage of this workshop. Welcome to all the participants from 22 European countries. About 50% of you have participated in the first workshop held in Budapest in March 1997 which is exactly 2.5 years ago. The other 50% are participating for the first time. I hope you will soon feel at home here.
Some people who participated in the first workshop are not able to participate in this workshop because of various reasons. I want to give special mention to the absence of our Turkish colleagues, because, as they wrote to me: 'the University board does not see it fit for us to leave the country because of the children that need help due to the earthquake in Turkey'.
Welcome also to representatives of our host country: of the Union of the Blind, and of the schools for the visually impaired in Bratislava and Levoca. I am happy to be in your country again.
Allow me to introduce myself briefly for the people I have not met before. My name is Herman Gresnigt and I come from the Netherlands. Until July 1994 when I retired, I was the director of Theofaan, a centre for education and rehabilitation of people with visual impairment of all ages in the south of the Netherlands.
I have been the European Chairman of ICEVI since 1992 and my retirement allows me to spend a lot of time on this job.
Some information about ICEVI. ICEVI is a world-wide organisation for professionals and others involved in the education and rehabilitation of visually impaired children and youths. ICEVI has existed for 47 years and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2002, during the world conference in the Netherlands. One of the major aims of ICEVI is to facilitate the exchange of professional information, knowledge and know how about the education and rehabilitation of the visually impaired by, among other things, promoting and organising international seminars, workshops and conferences.
World-wide ICEVI consists of 8 regions, one of which is Europe, covering more than 40 countries. In Europe we have a European Committee consisting of 12 members, each representing a part of Europe. The representative of Central Europe is Mrs Krsztina Kovacs from Hungary who is also present here. This committee meets once a year to discuss and prepare the different activities. During the quinquennium 1992-1997 there was a European Conference in Budapest in 1995. In the current quinquennium, 1997-2002, the European Conference will be held next year in Cracow, Poland in July 2000,. The preparations are in full swing and I hope all of you will be there. The registration information and the registration forms will be distributed before the end of this year. Furthermore, ICEVI-Europe publishes a Newsletter three times a year. All your names are placed on the mailing list, so you will receive this Newsletter regularly. Another activity of ICEVI-Europe is the promotion of twinning- contacts between schools, institutes, departments of special education of ministries or universities from different countries, especially between countries from Eastern and Western Europe.
One of the outcomes of the Budapest workshop in 1997 was the wish to organise a second workshop. In contrast with the general, exploratory nature of the first workshop, the participants indicated that the second workshop should be focussed more on the 'creation of knowledge' by means of more in-depth discussions. That is why the following title of this workshop has been chosen: "Competencies for teachers of the visually impaired: Sharing and creating knowledge on a European level".
With colleagues from Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom we discussed the usefulness of a second workshop. After answering this question positively, we have prepared the programme. Later on in this session, Heather Mason will give more details about the programme.
Another important outcome of the Budapest workshop was to explore the possibilities of exchange of information and knowledge by new technologies, for example by intemet. This point was thoroughly discussed between participants from Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. The two most important problems in this field are: first, we need an explicit formulation of the content of information/knowledge we want to share. I hope, we and you as experts will find the answers before the end of the workshop.
The second problem is a financial one: where to find the money and, what is even more important and costly, ensuring frequent updating of a website accessible to all people who are interested in this special field.
Within this context we have contacted the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, an agency of the European Union, consisting of partners in all European Union countries and with an office in Denmark. I am very happy that the director of this office, Mr Jorgen Greve, one of the members, Mr Sip Jan Pijl, and one of the project managers, Mrs Amanda Watkins will be here from tomorrow evening till Sunday afternoon. In this way we will have the opportunity to discuss co-operation between this Agency and ICEVI Europe regarding our activities. More about this tomorrow.
In my opening speech in Budapest I remarked, and I like to make this remark again: "Good education/rehabilitation of children and youth with a visual impairment highly depends on good and professionally trained teachers and other staff. It is our duty, our profession to train these teachers so that they are well prepared for their jobs. This workshop is meant to provide new ideas to you as trainers of these teachers so that you may be able to include new methods, new modules in your curricula. That is why the aim of this workshop is to develop a number of modules or parts of modules on the topics of the conference together. The facilitators have made the reader as a first step, it is up to you to make the next steps in the days to come.
It is a lot of work to organise such a workshop. For this moment,I would like to give brief and special mention to: the members of the preparatory committee, the facilitators and last but not least, our colleagues here in the Slovak Republic. I like to thank you sincerely for all you have done. I wish you all a productive and enjoyable workshop. Thank you for your attention
3b) Welcome by Dr Branislav Mamojka, President of the Slovak Union of Blind and Partially Sighted People
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me to welcome you to the Slovak Republic and to Bratislava, its capital. It is a great honour for our country and especially for the Slovak Blind and Partially Sighted Union that ICEVI decided to hold this conference here and to invite our Union to help with its organisation.
I would like to express our pleasure to meet this representative assembly of distinguished specialists who have crucial influence on long-term development of education of visually impaired people. We will do our best to create acceptable conditions for your work and your stay in our country.
Activities of ICEVI and its members are well-known in our country and lead to significant advancement of our educational system of visually impaired people. Let me express our gratitude to at least three of them: Theofaan from the Netherlands; Perkins School for the Blind and Hilton Perkins Foundation (USA); and Overbrook School for the Blind and its International programme (USA). All of them are important partners in running projects directly or closely related to our educational system.
In particular, we highly appreciate the outstanding support provided to Central and Eastern European countries by our distinguished president Mr. Herman Gresnigt and Mrs. Maria Venhuizen. We admire their inexhaustible energy, inventiveness and driving force to open doors to high-quality education so as to prepare blind and severe visually impaired people for a life equal to that of sighted people.
The importance of this conference is also emphasised by the presence of an important representative of the Ministry of Education of the Slovak Republic. As we believe, it can be understood as a confirmation that advancement of education of visually impaired people is one of the most significant spearheads of the policy of this Ministry.
Our Union is taking part in development of our educational system and provision of support services for this system. Let me to draw your attention to two results of our co-operation with the Slovak specialists presented at this conference. The first is a new technology of masters production for tactile graphics duplicated on Thermoform machines developed by Professor Honcariv from the University of Kosice and its use to present the beauty and diversity of nature to blind people.
The second are mechanical braillersTatrapoint, developed and produced by the company Svec, in particular the latest model designed especially for children. We hope that they can also contribute to the creation of better conditions for education of blind children.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you a creative working atmosphere, many new ideas and success. I also hope you will find enough time for fruitful and friendly discussions and that you will enjoy your stay in our country.
3c) Speech on behalf of the Minister of Education by Mrs Dr Maria Tekelova
Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Minister of Education of the Slovak Republic allow me to convey my warmest greetings to the second European seminar for professional Training of Teachers of People with Visual Impairment organised by the International Council for Education of people with Visual impairment in the capital of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava. I was pleased to accept not only the invitation but also the opportunity to sponsor this significant international event. I am honoured by the occasion to show my positive feelings towards activities of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment right from the ceremonial opening of this second European seminar.
Education of people with visual impairment has a long tradition in Slovakia. Institutional upbringing of children with various kinds and degrees of visual impairment has been prevalent and realised under the conditions of specialised education. Only two specialised residential schools in Levo�a and Bratislava have undergone notable changes in the period 1989 -1990.
Traditional approaches to upbringing and education of visually impaired have been challenged by new events - first of all acceptance or ratification of several international documents like the International Declaration on Human Rights into the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, Standard rules for creating equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and last but not least, the new Constitution of the Slovak Republic. These new circumstances have impacted on the conceptual intentions in special education.
The present conception of upbringing and education of handicapped children and subsequent gradual approval of several legal standards reflecting basic conceptual changes in special education pave the way for opportunities to raise and educate visually impaired children in the conditions of general education within family and among healthy peers. It is gratifying to learn that this quality improvement in upbringing and education has a positive influence on personal development of visually impaired people. Most importantly, the chance of emotional separation, frustration and deprivation resulting from early separation from family in the time of development of psycho-social functions and personal characteristics is diminished. It is the integration of people with visual impairment, transfer of care to early childhood and pre-school age connected with development of special pedagogic counselling that positively innovate the specific area of upbringing and education - area of special education.
I am pleased to witness the fact that since 1996 the Ministry of Education through its section of special education has been closely co-operating with the International Organisation for Education of People with Visual Impairment through the Theofaan Centre in the Netherlands. It is the undeniable merit of the President of the European Council of this organisation, respected gentleman Mr Herman Gresnigt, that in the period 1996 - 1998 in co-operation with the Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired People of Slovakia and the Special Elementary Residential School for Visually Impaired and specialised pedagogic counselling centre in Levo�a the first common project called "Extending Network of counsellors for Support of Integrated Education of People with Visual Impairment in Slovakia", was realised.
Therefore respected Mr. Gresnigt, let me reassure you that know-how acquired from this Dutch-Slovak project significantly and positively impacted on and continues to impact on the process of development of specialised pedagogic counselling in Slovakia.
The second European seminar for professional Training of Teachers of people with Visual Impairment focuses on a wide range of opportunities for integration of approaches in upbringing and education of the visually impaired in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe with countries of Western Europe. I am aware of the fact that integration tendencies of visually impaired are today an irreversible reality. Therefore sharing long-term experiences and knowledge about integration of people with visual impairment from the Countries of Western Europe, where in parallel with institutional care in specialised schools there has been systematic building of specialised pedagogic counselling, further supports conceptional intentions of special education in Slovakia. These intentions also embody internationally accepted conceptions and transfer of attention to early childhood and pre-school age, integration of the visually impaired and special pedagogic counselling. Mutual exchange of experiences and knowledge, consultations on the problems and questions of especially integration of educated visually impaired in the education process of general schools and school facilities will provide our lectors with sufficient scope and allow for feedback on the conditions of integration of the visually impaired in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear organisers of the second European seminar, let me conclude by thanking the respected Mr Herman Gresnigt, who personally visited the Ministry of Education of the Slovak Republic. He did so with the intention of offering us co-operation, informing us about the activities of the International Organisation for Education of People with Visual Impairment and asking me to sponsor this international event. I believe that the findings of the second European seminar for Professional Training of People with Visual impairment will contribute not only to increasing quality of complex specialised pedagogic care for people with visual impairment, but will also become a valuable input for Slovak professionals from the area of opthalmo-pedagogics for the European Conference which will take place in July 2000 in Cracow, Poland.
I would like to conclude my speech by expressing my belief that our co-operation with the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment will continue and will represent a benefit to conceptual intentions of the specialised education and contribute significantly to integration of Slovakia into European structures. I hope that the conclusions of the second European seminar of Professional Training of People with Visual Impairment will provide many impulses for increasing the effectiveness of the educational process of visually impaired children and youngsters.
I wish you all a pleasant, professional working atmosphere during this important international seminar. Thank you for your attention.
3d) Key note address by Dr Heather Mason
Honoured guest from the Ministry of Education, ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues,
It is a great honour to speak to you all today in this great city on the River Danube. I would like to thank the Slovak Union of the Blind for hosting this important workshop and Herman Gresnigt and ICEVI for making everything possible. I have no doubt that the next few days will prove to be exciting and stimulating. The overall aims of the workshop are:
As a direct or indirect consequence of the last workshop in Budapest and the publication of that workshop Report many changes have taken place across Europe. For example,
However, this is only part of the picture. We know that in many parts of Europe there are still major economic and political and religious problems. We cannot forget such natural disasters, for example, earthquakes or 'man' created problems such as genocide. These are preventing or delaying the progress made in the last decade of the entitlement of all children and young people with a visual impairment to an education that will prepare them and their families for the next century. It is important that at a personal level, we consider what we can do to help, however small an action that might be.
As an example of this co-operation, I was fortunate to be part of an English/Swedish/Finnish project that among other issues looked at the idea of a common course for all teachers of the visually impaired across Europe. The project started by looking at detail at the Competencies for such teachers, which are used in the United Kingdom. Marianna Buultjens presented these competencies to you at the last conference - they form part of that report. It may be useful to remind you of the definition of competencies in this context provided by Marianna at the last conference.
"A competence is an ability to carry out a specified task or activity to predetermined 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."
In many countries throughout the world there is an increasing awareness that good teachers are one of the major assets of any country and that the poor teacher can be a financial and economic burden upon a country's most valuable resource - its young people. To be a good teacher, you need a set of skills, knowledge and understand and the appropriate attitude. In turn, to be a good and competent teacher of a child with a visual impairment, the teacher requires additional and highly specific skills, knowledge and understanding. For example, a teacher of young children has to understand the theory about teaching reading and develops these skills over a period of time drawing upon their knowledge of the different methodologies. The teacher of the child with a visual impairment (low vision or blind) may have this as their starting point but then has to develop the specific skills, knowledge and understanding. It is not sufficient just to know the braille code or how to enlarge print!
After many hours of discussion with colleagues in Finland, Sweden and England an amended set of Competencies or Standards were produced as a suggested model for European teachers. The development of such competencies or standards is not a new concept, for example, similar documents exist in the USA and Australia.
Similarly, using the University of Birmingham distance education course for teachers as a starting point (see the paper by myself and Christine Arter in the last workshop Report for full details), the same group developed an amended course consisting of 4 modules. This course is linked directly to the competencies and gives detailed suggestions for each unit of work about
This suggested course outline and list of competencies (Standards) are included in your workshop information. We hope that you will look at both documents closely when you are in your discussion groups and as they are 'working' documents and we would welcome feedback at any stage.
During the project, I mailed all the people who attended the last workshop to ask for you comments on the revised competencies. Briefly, everyone agreed with them and there were some very useful comments that relating to strengthening certain aspects, for example, social skills. It was thought by many of the respondents that training courses do not pay sufficient attention to this important area. Young people with a visual impairment receiving their education in mainstream schools in an integrated or inclusive provision are encouraged to develop many skills to enable them to access the curriculum, are provided with various types of adult support but in many instances have poor social and associated skills. Similar comments were made during the last workshop. This has been addressed by having one of the themes for this workshop on Social and Emotional Development.
The other themes for this workshop
have been chosen carefully to reflect those important areas where we need to exchange our knowledge and experiences. By providing you with the selected articles in the pre-workshop reader, we hope that this process of exchanging information and knowledge has begun. Equally, we look forward to sharing any resources that you have brought with you. The format of this workshop into various themes will enable you to participate fully in-depth and contribute to a body of useful information that will be published in the workshop report. At the last workshop, a major concern was the lack of accessible information - this is one way we are helping to solve that problem in key areas. More important for this workshop is that all the topics that will be discussed during the next few days can become part of your teacher education programmes.
We are grateful to the facilitators for providing the readers at short notice and to the all the people who have agreed to chair sessions and act as reporters. It is an ambitious programme and the accomplishment of the aims of the workshop is the responsibility of each and every one of us. As Herman states in his introductory letter to the reader, the key word is SUCCESS! I wish you a fruitful and stimulating workshop.
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