Celebrating education’s unsung heroes, by David Edwards

In quality education systems around the world, behind student success there are invisible armies of education support personnel (ESP). These under-recognised workers are too often forgotten or ignored, but are absolutely vital for student success and wellbeing.

They fill bellies. Drive students to school. Support students with special needs. Apply band aids. Keep students safe. Fix computers. Say ‘hello’ in the morning. Keep schools clean. Teach small groups. Train athletes. Maintain equipment. Provide student counselling and advice. Monitor play time. Staff the university library.

ESP are professional, administrative, technical, and general staff working within the education sector, in numerous and diverse roles such as teaching assistants, school nurses, psychologists, bursars and bus drivers, to name but a few.

Whether educators in their own right and interacting with students on a daily basis, or professionals that work ‘behind the scenes’ in education institutions, all ESP contribute to the provision of quality education. They foster safe and healthy learning environments, ensure that students have the necessary tools for learning, promote student wellbeing, cater to diverse student needs, and make sure that no student is left behind.

The role of ESP is going to become increasingly important as more education systems realise that quality education is far more than good test scores; quality education is about the development of the whole student being and enabling human flourishing – and it therefore takes an entire workforce to educate the ‘whole student’. Furthermore, ESP can enhance quality teaching by performing a variety of non-teaching tasks that reduce teacher workloads and enable teachers to focus on the core of teaching and learning.

Yet these workers are too often undervalued, their significant contributions to each individual student’s educational success too often go unnoticed, and they are too often not recognised as members of school, college and university communities.

More rights and increased recognition

Ongoing research by Education International shows that ESP around the world often have low salaries and unfavourable working conditions. They are victims of the increasing privatisation of education – in many countries ESP are not employed by educational institutions but by service providers offering them precarious contracts, poor benefits, and little job security.

We believe that there needs to be the necessary services and support structures in place to guarantee the basic rights of the whole education workforce. ESP deserve to enjoy the same status, rights and conditions as other professionals with similar academic and technical qualifications and experience. They should have access to professional development opportunities, and to have a say in the institutions they work in.

Education International - a global federation of over 32 million teachers and education support personnel in 173 countries - is committed to standing up for ESP and ensuring that they have better working conditions and increased recognition.

This week, EI is hosting a conference on Education Support Personnel in Brussels. The conference will bring together union leaders, education support personnel, researchers, and representatives of international organisations from around the world to encourage, inspire and challenge each other. Participants will affirm the important contribution of ESP for quality education and strategise on how best to organise, mobilise and raise the profile of ESP.

On 16 May, the conference will launch and celebrate the first-ever World Education Support Personnel Day, and agree on a Declaration on the Rights and Status of ESP. Because it is time that ESP are recognised for their important contribution to quality education.  It is time for ESP to enjoy the rights and the status that they deserve.

Want to share your own story of ESP making a difference? Or if you are an ESP, why not tell us about what you love about your career or challenges you face? Add to the conversation using these hashtags:  

#ESPday #Notjust #Proudtobe


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David Edwards

David Edwards is the General Secretary of Education International.

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