BCTF strike ignites much debate
// Victoria Fawkes

On Mar. 5, over 570,000 public school students all over the province rejoiced for three days straight. The reason? Teachers across B.C. went on strike, something that happens most times when the government and teacher’s union are bargaining. The strike affects students, teachers, and parents, often for days at a time. Other than the demand for a pay increase, the grievances that teachers are bringing to light were overcrowded classes, lack of funding, and lack of support for special needs students – all things that are brought up every time a new contract is negotiated.

The last time British Columbia’s teachers went on strike was Oct. 7, 2005. The strike was a response to Bill 12, which was introduced by the Liberal party and ordered an end to job action. It lasted 15 days, and was only resolved when recommendations from strike mediator Vince Ready were accepted by vote. However, every time that there is a strike, it provokes a debate across the province with many critics either taking a side with the government’s position, or the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

While it may be true that the underfunding of the public school system affects children when they are in elementary and high school, more importantly, it may also affect the performance of students in post-secondary institutions.

Taylor Ramsay, a first-year student at Capilano University, feels that her high school education did not adequately prepare her for post-secondary school. “I am a firm believer that high school is a babysitting service. I was able to get above average grades with minimal effort, so coming into university was hard for me because I wasn’t taught how to effectively study, which I believe is crucial for getting good grades in university,” says Ramsay, who spent her high school years at Argyle Secondary School in North Vancouver. Ramsay was also one of the many students affected by the teachers’ strike back in 2005, though at that time she was only in grade six, and saw the strike as a surprise vacation.

Although the teachers’ strike did not affect Ramsay then, she can sympathize with high school students, due to the job action not allowing teachers to do any work outside of regular school hours, which includes writing report cards. This includes grade 12 students, who require such documents for university admission.

Ramsay also believes that there is a serious gap in the number of teachers that deserve the improvements they demand and those who do not: “Some teachers were much more supportive than others. For certain subjects, I don’t think that the curriculum is standardized enough, which gives teachers the ability to teach things that I don’t think are relevant. For the most part, I do think that teachers could do more, and more importantly that the curriculum should be changed and enhanced.”

“I can personally say that in my entire high school experience, I had one teacher who I didn’t think needed to improve,” she adds.

While Ramsay is one student who was unhappy with her high school experience, a student’s transitional experience from secondary to postsecondary may in part be unavoidable due to the differences between the two types of institutions.

Edward Hamilton, who is the co-chair of the Communications division and teaches first-year classes at Capilano University, believes that any student thrown into an unfamiliar setting may feel overwhelmed: “I think students are more than prepared in terms of their ability to form opinions and gather information, and their willingness to engage in debate and discussion,” he says.

Hamilton continues, “Where students are unprepared is probably the same place that students have always been unprepared - that is, with the culture shock of entering university for the first time. The university is like a foreign country to many; characterized by weird customs, odd rituals, bizarre expectations, and a strange language. We go slow in a society that moves fast. We expect detailed support and explanation in a society that craves immediate answers.”

When asked whether the teachers’ strike affected him, Hamilton says that though he was not directly affected by the strike, he did sympathize with the teachers.

“Education is drastically underfunded in this province. B.C. teachers’ compensation is among the lowest in Canada, while the cost of living in Vancouver is the highest. But teachers’ pay is just part of it; the more significant dimension is lack of support to classrooms,” he explains. “Larger class sizes, few teaching aids for students with special needs, fewer resources for teaching and learning. The B.C. government does not support students adequately; this is the major point of the strike.”

Indeed, lack of school support is where teachers think British Columbia’s school system is lacking, which was their main concern during the strike. With ever-growing class sizes and lack of support for special needs students, B.C.’s teachers believe that the government is neglecting them. And although the strike ended on Mar. 7, the teachers have made their message heard to the public, as the government continues to debate Bill 22 in Victoria, a bill that would ban further job action, among other things.

However, if past precedent is considered, this may cause the teachers to strike in retaliation. So, whether British Columbia’s teachers deserve the improvements they’re asking for or need to work harder, one thing is for sure: they’re not going down without a fight.

//Victoria Fawkes, staff writer

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com