Liberals need to sort out their priorities
//Evelyn Cranston

Christy Clark just loves kids, and to prove it, the BC Liberals have decided to sink eight million dollars into creating a giant band-aid that will stretch over and conceal the 41,000 elementary school teachers currently on strike.

As young students were packing lunches and choosing outfits for their first day of school, their teachers were filing 72 hour strike notices for September 6. They’re still teaching, but have abandoned administrative duties such as creating report cards, showing up for meetings, conducting parent teacher interviews, and supervising playgrounds.

In lieu of this new dispute, the Liberals created an action plan to install 44 playgrounds and upgrade over 100 playgrounds across the province over the next two years, at a cost of eight million dollars. However, unless the government and the teachers can resolve their issues and end the strike, there will be no one to supervise the new playgrounds.

Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers Federation, stated, "If the premier is serious about her families-first agenda, she'll send her bargaining team to the table with a new mandate." The government insists the funding simply isn’t there to bargain with the Federation. When it comes to playgrounds, though, eight million dollars was just lying around, waiting to be spent.
Somewhat ironically, both the BC Liberal party and Christy Clark as Education Minister have histories tarnished with massive cuts to public schools. Ten years ago, while Clark was serving as minister, wooden playgrounds were deemed unsafe and removed, and there was no funding given to immediately replace them. Now, a decade later, she’s seizing the opportunity to heroically fund the construction of new playgrounds at these sites.

Back in the 2002/2003 school year, when cuts were made to special education support, school libraries, and learning assistance time, a group called Save Our Schools was created to voice distaste with the government’s actions. Even with a petition that amassed 14,000 signatures in support of full provincial funding for public education, Clark waved them off and disregarded them. Our premier only seems to care about schools when it’s a nice opportunity for a photo op, and is extremely frugal and uncaring when it comes to the important issues.

Granted, the teacher’s union’s demands are hefty, and many argue that teachers have a decent collective agreement as it is. The average teacher salary for BC teachers in 2011 is $73,972. They’re asking for a 22% increase in wages, 26 weeks of paid leave to attend to sick friends or relatives, banked sick days, and a year’s pay post-retirement. Satisfying the demands of the BC Teachers Federation would cost over $2 billion. Compared to this figure, $8 million is pocket change for the government. Obviously, when faced with the option of satisfying teacher demands or creating a feel-good playground legacy, price and public approval dictate an easy choice.

Playgrounds are an important factor in the development of socially educated children. At best, they have the potential to teach co-operation, tolerance, positive social bonding, and, most importantly, they can create a link between physical activity and fun.

In Canada, upwards of 25% of children aged 2-17 are considered overweight or obese. This is a substantial problem that has the tendency to be overlooked. Overweight children suffer from physical ailments, as well as a multitude of social problems throughout elementary school and into their adult lives. If playgrounds can play a role in preventing a further rise in obesity rates, then governments should, in the interest of mitigating a worsening public health issue, absolutely fund their construction and upgrading.

However steep the Teachers Union’s initial demands may seem, and however effective playgrounds are in childhood development, it still stands that the government is making a drastic mistake in ignoring and downplaying the strike. Playgrounds can aid in creating an active lifestyle foundation, but passionate, committed and invested teachers are the vital players. Playgrounds may teach social skills, but without supervision, they can be jungles of malicious, vitriolic insults and relentless bullying. Phys Ed classes taught by devoted teachers are more likely to be inclusive and open up the range of physical activities a student can try.

Teachers do have considerable benefits, and it’s true that they’re asking for more. However, their demands must be lofty as a normal beginning stage of the bargaining process; the union is fully prepared to accept less than originally demanded. It’s up to the Liberals to respond to the so-far lopsided bargaining conversation.

Teachers have one of the most critically important jobs, guiding children to become informed citizens and confident leaders. Their jobs are undeniably difficult, stressful and all-encompassing. Funding cuts have left schools with huge class sizes and few teaching supplies. One-on-one help for struggling students has been cut back and added to the pile of responsibilities teachers already have.

Schools deserve playgrounds, and teachers deserve all the benefits they can receive. Without educated youth, society only grows more violent and oppressive, and meaningful development comes to a standstill. Education is the backbone of a healthy, progressive society, and teachers are essential. Children, parents, and teachers all deserve more than an $8 million marketing gimmick.

Christy Clark’s playground project is an insulting attempt to placate parents, who are obviously unhappy with the strike, while simultaneously promoting her “Families First” image. The opposition party won’t let the relationship between the strike and the project go unnoticed, but parents may be sympathetic if they have this improved image of the Liberal party in mind. The monetary figures are lopsided in favour of the Liberal’s plan, and this facade will, in the face of general ignorance, go over as an honest and meaningful development.

Schools, teachers, and playgrounds all cost money, but considering the benefits that an active, healthy and intelligent population brings to society, it’s more than worth it.

// Evelyn Cranston
Staff Writer

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