Ontario strikes and the search for solutions

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

One student explores the debate surrounding teacher strikes and education

Student protests and professors on strike are not new concepts. Each time they happen, though, questions are raised about the nature of education and the rights and responsibilities of both teachers and students.

On Oct. 16, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union went on strike, according to CBC News. Classes were cancelled as professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians fought for change. Twenty-four universities were affected, including Humber College and George Brown College in Toronto.

Students were tense as they lost precious time and money, not to mention the feeling of uncertainty they had from not knowing when the strike would end. On the other hand, teachers were fighting for more stable contracts and better pay. This was a difficult situation for both students and teachers. It makes me wonder if there is a solution that could improve the situation for both parties.

James Luckow, a professor of educational psychology at Concordia University, said he believes university teachers should have the right to go on strike because the impact on students is minimal. “Usually they do not lose a year,” he said. “In the end, it is not the end of the world. They can make up for the lost time in the summer.”

According to CBC News, it is illegal for transit workers, ambulance drivers and other essential service employees to go on strike in Ontario. Teachers are not included in this law. Luckow said he doesn’t believe teaching is an essential service, arguing “is anybody dying if teachers go on strike?”

When asked if he thinks there is a solution to the teachers’ concerns regarding their salaries, Luckow said, “unless there’s an unbiased mediation where an outsider determines the wages, the problem will persist.”

Mira Facchin, a retired English CEGEP professor, said teachers should be able to go on strike because it can improve the quality of education. “If we value education, we need to value the work of the teachers and pay them accordingly,” she said. “In Ontario, students are paying $5,000 a year on average. With that money coming in, they should be able to secure more permanent jobs for teachers.”

On the side of the students, the frustration is palpable. More than 500,000 students were affected by the strike, according to the Huffington Post. In response to classes being cancelled, upset students created the Twitter hashtag #Wepaytolearn to express their anger over being robbed of their time and money. Additionally, according to an interview with the Toronto Star, NDP Member of Provincial Parliament Peggy Sattler stated that “because of the extended semester, some students wishing to write their paralegal entrance exam with the law society won’t be finished in time for the February exam sitting—putting students behind by at least six months.”

However, there were options available for students during the strikes. According to CBC News, colleges remained open and some support services, such as tutoring, student associations and fitness centres, were available to students even when classes were cancelled. Some students took their education into their own hands. Journalism students met to publish articles and medical students simulated patient-physician interactions amongst themselves to practice what they had learned during the semester, in the hopes of making the transition back to school easier, according to CBC News.

The Ontario strike finally concluded on Nov. 21 and students returned to class. Yet, as a student myself, this whole situation concerns me, because it could easily happen at any school in Canada, including Concordia. I do believe teachers should have the right to go on strike, but there should be measures in place to ensure students are looked after in these cases. We should be striving for solutions that benefit both students and educators. After all, teachers shape students, and students are our future.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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