Over 30,000 teachers in Quebec’s French-language school system are preparing to strike on September 30, and are expected to have two more strike days in October. Many of the English-language school boards that have held votes so far have also voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike day. Both English- and French-language schools have suspended all teacher-run extracurriculars taking place outside of their contract hours. Over the past five years, the Liberal and Parti Québécois governments have cut nearly $800 million from education as part of broader austerity measures totalling $3.7 billion in cuts. The government’s current proposals will not only further undermine fair working conditions for teachers, but will also jeopardize equitable access to education for students. As students at an educational institution in Quebec that also suffers from austerity measures, we stand in solidarity with the teachers as they fight for their rights and the rights of students.
The Quebec government is planning to increase class sizes by up to nine students, which will deteriorate the quality of education in classrooms. Maximum class sizes were decreased by a previous Liberal government in 2010, but the same party now argues that reducing the class sizes has had no effect on educational outcomes. On the contrary, studies show that small classes lead to better performance and allow more resources to be devoted to students that face disadvantages based on race and class. Additionally, the government is proposing to no longer consider whether students have a learning disability when calculating class sizes, as well as to cut over 800 resource coordinator and special education teaching positions, withdrawing individual support from students with disabilities. Overall, already marginalized students will be disproportionately affected by the proposed changes.
Increasing class sizes combined with a lack of proper support for special needs education puts tremendous pressure on Quebec’s teachers, who are already overworked and among the lowest paid in the country. Worsening working conditions for teachers inevitably lead to a decreasing quality of education for students. Adding insult to injury, the government is proposing an extension of teachers’ contract hours from 32 to 35 per week without a salary increase – this in a context where many teachers already perform a number of non-remunerated tasks outside of their paid hours, such as providing extra help to students, leading extracurricular activities, and organizing events.
The teachers’ strike is not focused on salaries – part of a broader social movement against austerity, it is a response to the government’s deliberate and continuous attack on education and other public services. This is why, despite the inconvenience that a teachers’ strike would cause, many parents stand with teachers in their fight to preserve the quality of education, and have joined them to form human chains around schools in protest of the cuts. Uniquely positioned to defend investment in education, teachers merit our full support in their actions. Teachers and allies should not relent until these cuts are rolled back and the government has learned its lesson.
—The McGill Daily editorial board