More than money at stake during acrimonious education negotiations

Naturally there are skeptics as to what the teachers were really fighting for when members of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher Federation (OSSTF) held a one-day strike last Wednesday.

It’s easy for those of us not in a union to be cynical-if we don’t have the power to hold out for a pay increase, why should they?

Given that contracts talk play out in a very public setting and students are kept out of class for the day, there’s bound to be strong opinions on the matter.

There is however so much more at stake than a simple one per cent cost of living increase. Regardless of where the two sides end on that topic, it’s the matter of class size caps and mandatory e-learning that should really pique a parent’s interests.

As has been pointed out many times, high speed internet is not a luxury enjoyed by all communities across the province. Access to the internet isn’t as big a hurdle for a teen in the Greater Toronto Area as it would be to some in the Prince Edward County area or points north. Then there’s the students who learn better through more traditional means-namely the ability to talk directly to a live teacher right in front of them.

That’s not to say e-learning should be discarded completely as there’s certainly merit to those who earn their degrees through online training. But to make it mandatory, especially with so many details yet to be finalized, is a mistake.

As it stands, it’s an option for students at select schools, PECI included. The students who prefer to study that way have that option. Last check, the Ontario government was willing to drop their offer of four mandatory online courses to two.

Class size is another issue that will play a huge role in the quality of education that is offered going forward. The Ontario government has said it’s willing to back down from it’s previous offer of 28 students per class, down to 24.

Whatever number they ultimately settle on, student and teacher safety has to be their highest priority, as well as the quality of education offered to each individual student within a classroom setting.

In terms of class room safety, OSSTF and Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario members have been quick to offer glimpses of the aftermath of a student meltdown by way of social media.

Scenes of overturned desks, papers and books strewn about and vacated classrooms in order to ensure the safety over everyone- staff and students- are equal parts saddening and terrifying.

This is the frontline reality of education in Ontario in the age of inclusivity and equitable learning. Those are laudable and progressive goals but teachers and educational support workers as well as students have the right to a safe working and learning space and concerns over the safety of all parties should also be meaningfully addressed during these negotiations.

Meanwhile, trying to save some dollars on education now could have long lasting implications for students down the road.

As for the cost of living increase-OSSTF is seeking two per cent to coincide with the rate of inflation while the government has countered with one per cent. Each side has their numbers as to what that increase would actually translate to in terms of tax dollars. The Ford government says $1.5 billion, the OSSTF says $200 million.

Quite a gap. In the age of ‘fake news’, age old politics and social media groups with not-so-hidden political agendas, it can be tough to know who to believe. It is however worth noting that in October, Ontario’s financial watchdog Peter Weltman listed the province’s deficit at $7.4 billion, not the $15 billion Doug Ford’s staff calculated just after the election.

Once again, quite a gap.

Adam Prudhomme is the Editor of the Napanee Beaver