They are a core part of each education system and essential to the union movement, yet Education Support Personnel are often ignored and undervalued.
In order to highlight their key role, experience and professionalism in providing quality education for all, EI launched this May 16th, the first worldwide Education Support Personnel Day. The worldwide launch was made during the first conference on Education Support Personnel held in Brussels, Belgium with the participation of around 60 educators from 36 countries.
"Education Support Personnel are an essential part of the education community and have an essential place in the education movement and our unions, as education workers committed to education as a human right for the public good," stated EI General Secretary David Edwards. "Though we have different conditions and experiences in different countries, we have shared challenges, and we must recognise that it takes a whole workforce to educate the whole student," he added.
"As a teacher it would have been absolutely impossible for me to do a good job on my own. Our ESP's are the heart and the soul of our schools," expressed EI Deputy General Secretary, Haldis Holst. "We have to join forces, we have to work for change. On the first World ESP Day, we celebrate and value the important work that you do," said Holst to the global education unionists attending the conference.
Sean Slade of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), opened the two-day conference with a call to recognise ESPs not as just "service providers," but as a key part of the fabric of what makes a school and that community what it is.” ESPs, teachers, all the adults in a school, play a crucial role in creating a school climate were the child is healthy, safe and nurtured, explained Slade.
"Education is not a content delivery system. Traits and skills such as critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, persistence, and self-control, are vitally important to children’s full development. School support staff hold a special place, as they are trusted, respected by students," he concluded.
Among others who participated in the conference, Fátima Aparecida da Silva, General Secretary of the Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores em Educação(CNTE) of Brazil stressed the need to give political visibility to Education Support Personnel, to be inclusive of their voice, and to support their professional development as part of a whole school community. Sylvester Mutindindi, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Educational Scientific and Cultural Workers Union (ZESSCWU) underlined the need to organise education support personnel adapting to national realities and stressed that "we all have a common goal."
The participants were actively involved in workshops and panels around privatisation, organising, professional development and union action, and shared their national and local expertise. Mere Berryman of the Waikato University in New Zealand delivered a keynote on "The most marginalised: the role of education support personnel". Sharing her experiences, she was adamant that inclusive holistic education is possible if the full education workforce comes together.
As a conclusion and next steps, the participants adopted the Declaration on the rights and status of Education Support Personnel which among other points affirms that "ESP are important for educating the ‘whole student’ – their contributions ensure that students’ academic, socio-emotional and practical needs are met, fostering equitable and inclusive education systems".