The Federação Nacional da Educação (National Education Federation – FNE), its nine teachers' unions and three education support personnel (ESP) unions are honored to host the 2nd World ESP Conference, in the city of Aveiro, Portugal. Unions around the world are coming together for this important event to focus on improving working conditions for ESP everywhere and to fight for more investment in quality education.
Navigating increasing challenges in school communities
When we gathered in Brussels for the first World ESP Conference, in May 2018, we could not have imagined the changes that would take place in the world, particularly in education.
In the years since our last Conference, education support personnel felt the impact of the global crisis brought on by Covid-19, the wars that ravaged countries in Europe and Africa, the economic and social crisis, the waves of refugees driven from their homes by adverse conditions or the effects of climate change, notably in Africa and South America.
School-aged children were particularly affected by these crises and require more support at school. This means more and better health care, nourishment, teaching and learning support, and counselling, to give just a few examples.
Education support personnel must now provide more effective and consistent support to all these young people, families and communities, with a very special focus on those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
The job of ESP has become more challenging but also even more vital to school communities everywhere. They support diversity in schools, with a very special focus on refugee students who are victims of wars and displacement, on immigrants, on students with special needs, on improving conditions for those who suffer from gender bias, on democratic access for all to a free, quality school.
Education support personnel have to deal with all these challenges on a daily basis, in both public and private schools. In fact, there are no differences in their professionalism and dedication. The only difference is the nature of the entity that owns the school.
The need to invest in ESP’s fundamental educational mission
In Portugal, many schools remained open in the middle of the pandemic, because there were professionals who could not work from home - doctors, nurses, policemen, military, firefighters, or ambulance technicians. Education support personnel were in schools, supporting the children of those workers. In an uncertain and dangerous public health situation, our colleagues in education support roles were always present.
But can education support personnel keep going in the new normal of underfunded education systems, deeply marked by successive cuts in public school budgets? Are our children served by the trend towards the privatization and commercialization of education and quality public schooling? Can every child’s right to education be fulfilled when our public schools are consistently undermined and underfunded? The answer is no.
Change is imperative
Education support personnel call on governments to ensure sufficient public investment in education so that our schools can keep up with all changes and challenges, including the ongoing digital transformation. FNE calls for a digital transformation that is fair and includes all students, teachers, and education support personnel, valuing equity, and access to new technologies for all. Providing adequate professional training opportunities during working hours is particularly important.
Governments should also take a closer and more comprehensive look at inclusive schooling, for all students, in all their diversity. To be able to deliver a truly inclusive education experience, education support personnel need lifelong professional training covering a broad range of topics, from digital, legal, pedagogical, cultural, and linguistic skills to emotional competences and conflict resolution. Solid specialized training enables ESP to carry out a complete educational mission in multidisciplinary teams focusing on inclusion.
Quality terms and conditions matter
In Portugal, education support personnel are fighting for a dignified professional status and for the development of appropriate career paths. We are also fighting to end precarity and unsustainable workloads.
The latter is very high on the agenda for ESP in Portugal. In the last four years, FNE carried out eight national consultations with our ESP members. 78.3% of respondents said their workload had increased considerably. Measures must be taken to ensure the physical and mental well-being of all education support personnel.
A salary raise, support for career mobility, a fair performance evaluation, better living and working conditions, and the social recognition of their role in education are all major goals of education support personnel in Portugal.
This year, the management of Portuguese education support personnel passed from the central Ministry of Education to local municipalities. It is now vital to find new forms of collaboration and establish an effective social dialogue in order to create synergies and deliver concrete solutions to the real problems of education support personnel across all professional categories.
Since 2018, FNE has celebrated World Education Support Personnel Day on May 16, but we also mark the national day dedicated to education support personnel on November 24. Celebrating education support personnel and their role in our schools and communities is essential and we encourage everyone to join in this public recognition of their work.
This year’s World ESP Day will be followed by the 2nd EI World ESP Conference – an event we are honored to host and a great opportunity for our union and all education support personnel in Portugal. We are looking forward to learning from colleagues from around the world and working together for education support personnel everywhere.
FNE is also proud to join forces with millions of colleagues around the world in support of the new Education International global campaign – Go public! Fund education. Education support personnel, teachers, and public education are in dire need of investment. It's up to all of us to make the case for fully funded public education systems everywhere. The 2nd World ESP Conference in Aveiro is a campaign highlight, offering us the space to come together and strategize the way forward to fully funded inclusive quality public education for all.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.