EDITORIAL: The cost of an education

Carole Morris-Underhill editor@hantsjournal.ca
Published on December 3, 2016

VJA editorial

Teachers were preparing to enter a work-to-rule labour action Dec. 5 in order to make a statement.

They wanted to show just how much they're taken for granted. And, by doing so, they were hoping the public would pressure the current government to bow to their demands.

Under the NSTU’s work-to-rule plan, public educators and assistants would not be allowed to participate in anything outside their contract stipulations with the government.

Christmas concerts and scheduled field trips would be cancelled. Teachers would not arrive to school early or stay late, nor would they complete any clerical duties like updating their class website, or attend meetings deemed non-essential to lesson planning. No additional help to students would be provided before or after school, during recess or other breaks. Lunchtime would be unsupervised.

Basically all extracurricular activities would have been cancelled — so students involved in such things as sports, band, and drama would have a very free schedule leading up to the holidays.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union strategically decided to undertake this work-to-rule labour initiative at Christmastime as it would have the greatest impact on students, parents and grandparents, many of whom were looking forward to the annual concerts and plays.

Students were being used as pawns to secure a contract. Yet, some of these same students recently rallied in support of the teachers. They see how overworked they are. They see the large class sizes and the impact it has on learning. Across the province, students left class early Dec. 2 to host peaceful demonstrations — all hoping to pressure the government to give in to the NSTU's demands.

While students, parents and teachers braced for the work-to-rule impact, the provincial government was working on a plan.

On Dec. 3, the province nipped that labour action in the bud.

Citing safety concerns, Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Karen Casey announced that the Nova Scotia Teachers Union’s (NSTU) directive would create unacceptable risk to students.

As such, students will not be attending classes, effective Dec. 5, while the provincial government works to pass legislation that would get students back to school as quickly as possible.

While fingers are pointing at Premier Stephen McNeil for this crisis, the Liberal government inherited this issue. This has been simmering in the background for years as more and more demands were quietly placed on teachers.

We've reached a boiling point. Teachers are vital. We need to support them — but we need to be financially responsible as well, and keep an eye on the bigger picture.

Even if the premier finds the millions of dollars that the union wants, changes are not going to be seen overnight. It takes time to change a flawed system — and the current system is far from perfect.

Parents want their children to receive the best education possible. While they're going to be heavily lobbying for an immediate conclusion to this labour dispute, let's hope the push will continue into the future. Improvements within the education system need to happen regularly, not just when a contract needs to be signed.