Educational Assistants are professionals who are hired to provide an extra tier of support to children within the academic setting and/or the social environment.  Due to the nature of our host country, the Philippines, we are very privileged to be able to hire extremely well-educated, experienced professionals who are fluent in English and knowledgeable about current educational practices and we are able to offer this additional service at a very reasonable price in comparison to our ‘home’ countries.  I recently gained a new appreciation of just how unique a position we are here in the Philippines when I was at a conference with a number of other International schools.  In Europe it is far to expensive to hire people with master in special education while in most other parts of Asia it is extremely difficult to hire the same calibre of staff with such a fluency in English.

Coming to the decision that a student requires the services of an Educational Assistant is a difficult one for both teachers and parents.  Before we make the recommendation we look primarily at the needs of the child.  Ultimately we consider the level of success that a child is likely to experience in the classroom without the assistant compared to with the assistant.

Other factors that we consider are the impact on the other students in the classroom, the long-term implications of having a child work with a para-professional and the ‘good match’ between the child and the EA.  We will never hire an EA to work with a child to make the teacher’s life easier or to ‘manage’ a child to make them less of an intrusion to classmates.  We will only hire an EA when we believe that a child requires a level of modification to the curriculum or level of support that is beyond what can be offered through a combination of the classroom teacher, the Learning Support teacher and the LS Teaching Assistants.  This may be because the level of differentiation that the child requires is at a level that can only be met by an Educational Assistant for whom the child is the priority.  This does not necessarily mean that the child is ‘way below grade level’ or ‘unable to complete the classwork’; it can be that global and specific directions given in the classroom need to be delivered in a very individual way so that the child can access them.  It may be that the pace that the child works at is very different, it may be that the child requires a high level of redirection and support with their focus and attention management, it may be that the child requires support with their movement around the classroom or the school or that the environment needs to be managed in a very unique way or that they require a high level of intervention and reinforcement with social thinking and social functioning.

When we look at the level of support a child requires we will always try to meet that level of support in a minimal way – this means that we will allow each child to work independently where and when they can.  If a student does not require their EA in Art or PE, for example, then the EA will not be there.  Our EAs are trained on the ‘4 foot rule’ – stay 4 feet away from the student whenever you can.  Educational Assistants are not hired to be yayas or personal assistants.  Our overall aim for each student to be as independent as possible.  For some children, realistically, this may be a very long term goal but our EAs work with the goal of independence at the forefront of their mind.

At International School Manila Educational Assistants are managed by the student”s Learning Support teacher and are valuable contributors to student’s Learning Support Plan.  They collect data on students which allow us to measure success. EAs are required to submit daily reports to the Learning Support teacher which report to the goals in the student’s plan.  This allows the LS teacher to develop, manipulate and change each child’s support as required day by day.

Along with daily tasks we aim to have a training afternoon every 4 weeks with EAs.  They also have access to Professional Development sessions both in school and elsewhere.

So, are Educational Assistant a good thing or a bad thing? We really value this exceptional resource that we have here at ISM so they are undoubtedly a good thing but ultimately we want to work all of them out of a job so that our students are as independent as possible!