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Why delay ending Teacher’s strike?

Posted in Featured, View Point

Published on February 15, 2020 with No Comments

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today,” Malcolm X was an African-American Muslim leader and human rights activist who’s widely admired for his courageousness in advocating for the rights of blacks. However, do the various linked associates of education in Ontario believe in the same, whether it’s the striking teachers or the government.   Elementary teachers from the Peel District School Board participated in yet another round of rotating strikes this week thus putting a pressure on the students, and the Ontario government.  On Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) struck work for one-day strikes for various boards across the province, including a province wide one-day strike affecting all 83,000 ETFO public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals. Another one-day strike was observed on Feb 13 too.  The same happened in Ottawa where strikes closed elementary schools at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board on Monday.

Teachers staging rotating strikes across the province said they are fighting against the provincial government’s introduction of larger classes and mandatory online courses for their students. These two issues make their effort seem justifiable. However, the reasons are much larger than that what is being projected, and the Ontario government and the striking teachers have lot of discuss when they reach the negotiation table.

Ontario education unions that are engaged in the strike say that it all revolves around the question of how much the government will spend on education. The Conservative government has said it wants to cut the deficit and balance the budget by reducing spending. The plan for education outlined in the provincial budget is to slow the growth of spending over the next five years to well below increased costs due to inflation and rising enrolment. Making classes larger, eliminating thousand of teaching positions and limiting wage increases for more than 200, 000 education workers in the province’s schools has been on the agenda of the Doug Ford government. 

  claims that the government has increased education spending to the highest level in history. Unions are protesting cuts. These two claims seem to be contradictory, however both are correct. Overall spending on education this year has increased though it includes a new child tax credit and a temporary fund to help boards eliminate teaching position through attrition rather than layoffs.

Class sizes is another cause of disagreement among the various stakeholders. The government increased the average class size in Grades 4 to 8 this year from an average of 23.84 to 24.5. All the unions representing elementary teachers want class sizes restored to what they were last year, according to a joint advertisement. The teachers believe that increased classroom size affects time on classroom management, their time to prepare and instruct and one to one engagement with students. Education Minister Stephen Lecce takes a rescue by stating that the government has not made classes larger in kindergarten to Grade 3. Most Grades 1 to 3 classrooms have 20 students or fewer, with a cap of 23. Ontario has the lowest class sizes in the country in the younger grades. Unions emphasize that the government plans to increase high school classes from an average of 22 to 28, although Lecce has said he would reduce that to 25 as part of bargaining.

Union is also firm on the issue of Full day kindergarten. Unions want a written guarantee that the present policy of having a teacher and an early childhood educator in classes that be as large as 29 students,won’t be changed.  Lecce has said that he is in favour of full-day kindergarten. “We are committed to strengthening all-day kindergarten,” he said last week. Now the ETFO is maintaining a stance, that the government when at the bargaining table didn’t give any written assurance.

Another issue that the association and the government need to resolve is that of special need children. ETFO has called for more “special education teachers, psychologists, behaviour therapists, counsellors, social workers, child and youth workers and speech-language assistants to help the rising number of children with special needs, mental health challenges and high-risk disruptive behaviour” as well as more mental health services in both schools and communities.

The government has refused to “work in a collaborative manner” on the problem, says EFTO and it is quiet visible. Going by the statements that the

Education minister has made. He has shown an intent to solve but has not done enough to get the teachers on the negotiation table with the right intent.  The Ontario government needs to understand that its targets of increasing class room sizes can’t be the barrier that keeps the teachers out of the classroom and thus not letting the students in.  It will need to evolve and end this stalemate in a way that all stakeholders can get their rightful dues.

 

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