Tuesday, October 11, 2005

BC Teachers on Strike!

Strikes are unheard of in Singapore. Here in Canada, it is a normal way of life. Unions rear their fist frequently when they felt unjust, despite employers' explanation for their actions. The recent Teachers strike has led to something closer to home: Our children not being able to go to school. The two main issues on the table was over salaries and classroom sizes. Judging from the way the strike campaign has been fought, there is a feeling that the children were used by some people as a means to their ends. What remained true is that there has been cost-cutting throughout the province, by cutting the number of teachers (including not replacing any attrition) as well as classroom resources. Over 2500 positions had been cut since 2003 and more will leave if the situation does not improve. Teachers have tried to minimize costs, some even contributed their own money to make up for any shortfall. Recently, my daughter went for an educational camping trip. We were initially not keen to let her go as it was rather expensive for a 3 day weekend. Her teacher contributed half the amount in order to ensure that she is able to go. That is teacher commitment in action.

On the other side, the provincial government managing British Columbia said that 52% of the entire budget was allocated to salaries and compensation alone according to a Sep 14th 2005 financial update. So any increase in the teachers salary will have a major impact on the budget, and that is not even considering other public sector employees asking for adjustments as well. Afterall, the current government has imposed a 0% increase for the entire public sector so far.

Even more complicated is that the law courts has declared that the strike is illegal. The teachers federation having upped the ante are still insisting that their actions are legitimate. To me, the kids will be confused even more. Are the teachers leading by example, that becoming an adult is to defy the government? Teachers and government are the good guys and bad guys respectively? Kids should belong where they are. Learning and not be involved in bipartisan politics. Children should be trained to make good decisions not based on political or social agendas but on values. Can the Church help????

Public support has been strongly in favour of the teachers. Before anyone of us point a finger at the teachers actions, it is good to consider their rationale. By nature and culture, teachers are not militant. There must be something that has been done to them that they felt urged to obey their instincts and to take action about it. Rather than venting their frustration inside the classroom and on the children, they would rather vent it at the governing bodies. That is in some ways quite a good way to manage one's emotions. In contrast, if a teacher suppresses his/her own true feelings on a prolonged scale, it can create unexpected results that rub off our children.
There are legitimate concerns on both sides, and it becomes very complicated to resolve. One teacher puts it very well in terms of compromise. She said that she is willing to compromise on no salary increment as long as classroom environment are improved. Could this happen in Singapore? Very unlikely. However, if Singapore has a corrupt government, the society will be in trouble as the laws are very much against social action like civil disobedience. May the Lord have mercy that Singapore continue to have good leaders in government.

Put it this way. I would rather my kids enjoy school, learning from motivated teachers than having them to spend time with a disgruntled teacher who merely work for the sake of work. My kids summarised it very well. "I prefer that the teachers in Singapore go on strike because I do not like to go to school there. Here in Canada, I hope the teachers end their strike soon as I want to go back to school!". If a strike is needed in order for teachers to be rightfully motivated (ie for good reasons) and really take good care of my kids, I support the teachers.

Some web links:
- British Columbia Teachers Federation (http://www.bctf.bc.ca)
- British Columbia Public School Employers Association (http://www.bcpsea.bc.ca)
- British Columbia Federation of Labor (http://www.bcfed.com)


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