By: Surjit Singh Flora
Photo :OSSTF member :Emily Earle
Photo By Surjit Singh Flora
Our children need education. Not picketing. Not soapbox preaching. Not indoctrination. Could the quality of education be improved with more money?
Roughly 200,000 teachers throughout the province raised signs, led marches and voiced their concerns last week, going on a joint strike led by four unions – the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), and Association des Enseignantes et des Enseignants franco-Ontarians (AEFO). Approximately two million students were out of school, and more than 5,000 public schools were shutdown, as picket lines formed throughout major cities to protest education cuts on Feb 21.
As Premier Ford said last week, the province is spending $1.2 billion more on education — although that mostly comprises the province’s childcare rebate as well as an increase in its enrolment.
Negotiations continued on Thursday between the government and OECTA, as well as AEFO. However, tentative agreements weren’t reached with either union as of Friday evening.
“We believe that parents want us to increase investment in the schools and in our children, who go there,” Ford said Thursday. “What they do not — and I’ve heard it right across this province — believe in is increasing compensation. They’d rather have that money … put back into the classroom. These strikes are impacting families. Just imagine how many people have to find childcare or take a day from work. That’s unacceptable.” He added.
Among the issues on which the two sides continue to disagree are class sizes, e-learning, and compensation.
When we spoke to OSSTF spokesperson Emily Earle, who was rallying hundreds of teachers in the Ray Lawson and Hurontario area of Brampton on Feb 21, we asked the question – who is right: teachers’ unions or the government?
Increasing the class size makes a big difference, and it’s easy to tell the numbers from the numbers, said Earle. Still, dealing with that many students, in reality, is challenging. The issue of eLearning is a sticking point, continued Earle, because most of the students are not comfortable with the format, and it’s hard to get the proper education without the teacher being present on-site to guide the student.
On the issues, the Ford government is saying that teachers are asking for more money under the guise of ensuring their own financial security instead of the safety of students. But when it comes to the union, they say it’s not about the money, but the students.
The minister of education, in a news release, said parents are losing patience with the disruption in their lives. Stephen Lecce is calling on the teachers’ union leaders to accept private mediation to end what he calls “needless escalation” of job action.
“Your child should be in class; they should not be the casualty of union-led escalation. The focus of union leaders ought to be on negotiating a deal that keeps students in the class,” Lecce said in a statement last week. “Our government will remain squarely focused on providing stability to students who face escalation by teachers’ unions far too often throughout their educational journey. We have demonstrated this focus on students during the negotiation process, by advancing educational priorities that matter: merit-based hiring, enhanced investments in student priorities and special education over union demands for more generous wages and benefits and committed – in writing – to protecting all-day kindergarten.
Parents are losing patience with the union-caused disruption in their lives, the inconsistency in their children’s education, and the financial impact of scrambling for alternate care. That is why we will continue to stand with parents and offer financial assistance through the Support for Parents initiative, which is providing financial support directly in the pockets of working parents,” Lecce said. “While union leaders are continuing to organize further disruption, our government remains focused on getting deals that ensure students are learning each and every day.”
We asked Earle about how teachers compare to standard labour workers, who make an average $15,000 to $40,000 a year and also deal with long hours and heavy workloads. Currently, teachers make anywhere from $80,000 to $95,000 per year, while standard labourers have to deal with lower hourly wages and (in many cases) living and financial concerns.
Education workers in the province are united around the belief that investments in public education are investments in our future, said OECTA President Patrick Etmanski on Friday. “At the bargaining table, this government is demanding that our members accept larger class sizes, mandatory e-learning courses, and cuts to supports for our most vulnerable students. This is unacceptable.”