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Opinions of Saturday, 3 October 2015

Columnist: Eyiah, Joseph Kingsley

Teachers unrest impacts schools

By Joe Kingsley Eyiah, OCT, Brookview Middle School, Toronto

From the era of Chairman J. J. Rawlings’ PNDC rule in Ghana when the government thought it could easily replace striking teachers with cadres in the classrooms; and the reign of Conservative leader Mike Harris in Ontario during which he sought to ignore teachers in his educational reforms for the Province; to the present time when the governments in Ghana and Ontario ‘fight’ teachers in their educational budgets, teachers in both countries have firmly stood for better educational policies in their negotiations with the government and have not allowed themselves to be pushed over. In some instances teachers have embarked on industrial actions to back their demands for better education. Such actions definitely impact schools!
As world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly in September, 2015, the young education advocate Malala Yousafzai urged them to promise safe, quality education for every child! She stressed, “I am hopeful that we all in the UN will be united in the goal of education and peace, and that we will make this world not just a better place, but the best place to live. Education is hope, education is peace.” I couldn’t agree with her more, for, education is the key to development everywhere and since teachers are the wheels of such enterprise, their concerns must be taken seriously by all governments around the world.
In Ontario now:
According to Dunja Vukicevic of the Ontario Teachers and Education Workers Group, the following are the reasons why elementary teachers in Ontario are striking starting in October:
1. We want smaller class sizes.
Teachers want more one on one time with children.
Dunja declares, “I want to welcome every single child into my class. Children with autism are welcome, so are children with mental health issues. Children with recently divorced parents, refugee children, children who don't speak a word of English. Children who get fed at home, and children who don't. Children who have never spent a day in school and are entering fifth grade in a foreign country. All are welcome. All have needs.
“I can't be who I need to be for 38 children as realistically as I can be who I need to be for 20 of them. Please help me do my job.”
The Ontario government wants to keep class sizes as they are now. There is no cap for Kindergarten classes, where children as young as 3 years old can be spending a 6 hour day with upwards of 34 other 3 year olds. There is no cap for grades 4-8. The question here is why did grades 1-3 get a cap, and so did grades 9-12, but 4-8 don't deserve one? It is all politics. But, we want one now!

2. We want time to plan for children.
Teachers want time to read their students’ stories, and write comments on them. We want time to look at their math work and see where they messed up. We need time to find a lesson online that will address the concept that they seem to have missed. Teachers want time to set up for science experiments. We need time to clean up after art class. Teachers want time to call parents and set them up to meet with a settlement worker so that they can find a job and a winter jacket for their children.
“Right now, the government wants to give principals control over how teachers spend our planning time. Which means principals could ask us, day after day, to cover classes for absent colleagues. That would save the government money on supply teachers, but it would also take away our planning time.”
Please support teachers in supporting students. You can do so by getting in touch with Premier Kathleen Wynne and encouraging her to find the money needed to ensure capped class sizes for students (she can save $30 million dollars yearly by scrapping EQAO testing- a standardized test that in no way contributes to student achievement).
In Ghana now:
Recent reports from Ghana talk about waves of public unrest including the education sector that have plagued the nation. For example, teachers in public universities declared an indefinite strike to press home demand for the payment of their 2014 and 2015 book and research allowances.
According to the university teachers association, the government's failure to acknowledge receipt of several letters they have written requesting payment of the allowances, hence their decision to boycott the lecture rooms.
"We will not take part in any academic work until our demands are met," president of the association, Dr Samuel Ofori Bekoe said in a statement.
It could be recollected that in 2014 the university teachers declared a similar strike, lasting five weeks, to compel the government to release the book and research allowances.
Elementary school teachers in the country have had to ‘beg’ for chalk for their classrooms from the government. Should the government wait for teachers to ask for a basic classroom material such as chalk before supplying them to our schools?
Neglect of teachers’ concerns by the governments has greatly impacted teaching and learning in our schools. Teachers are the front lines in education, and we are fighting for our kids.
Are teachers asking for too much from their governments if in Ontario (a developed economy) elementary teachers want small class sizes, or in Ghana (a developing country) if teachers ask for chalk for the classroom and better working conditions?????? “Over to you, Joe Lartey!” as we say in Ghana.