Allison Hanes: Will Quebec learn any lessons from the teachers’ strike?

Many questions remain about why lengthy contract negotiations ended in a strike when education is supposed to be a top priority for this government.

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It’s a new year. And for hundreds of thousands of Quebec students, it could well be a completely new school year.

All children returned to class this week after teachers negotiating for better pay and working conditions walked off the job for several periods of time before the Christmas break. Most of the children missed 11 days of school. But nearly 400,000 students were out of school for a total of seven weeks, almost the equivalent of summer vacation.

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On Tuesday, Education Minister Bernard Drainville unveiled a $300 million plan to help students catch up, without canceling March Break or extending the school year beyond the National Holiday. Despite threats that he might do just that, this was surely a prerequisite for maintaining the fragile détente between the government and teachers.

This is not the time to get irritated, since the professors have not yet voted on contract offers. Nor is it the time to point fingers and recriminate. Even Drainville, who is not averse to derogatory pronouncements (“Are you really comparing the job of being a teacher to the job of being an MNA?”), seemed to realize this, biting his tongue when asked if there were lessons to be learned. . to avoid an equally prolonged labor dispute in the future.

There will be time for analysis, said Drainville, narrowing his eyes and pursing his lips, as if to avoid saying something he might later regret. For now, she said, the focus is on helping Quebec schoolchildren make up for what they’ve missed, particularly students who were already struggling.

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He is right. But there are still many lessons to learn.

The most vulnerable students were the most affected by the strike. They include newcomers to French public schools in Greater Montreal, where 22 days of classes were canceled before the holidays, and students experiencing learning difficulties. The government will fund tutoring sessions for those left behind, as well as extra French lessons for migrant children trying to master a new language.

Will it be enough to erase the disparities of the strike, which likely exacerbated the harmful effects of the pandemic? The lesson here is that this group of doubly disadvantaged students deserves all the support we can muster at all times, not just for the rest of the current school year.

Although there have been some complaints in recent days that no one was consulted about the plan (which, in fact, could have been a good thing), Drainville did not simply impose a single solution from the top as it usually does. There is flexibility for each school to adapt its own approach, much more than expected from a government that has just passed a law to give the education minister the power to appoint top administrators of service centers and override their decisions .

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Drainville is right to trust professionals to decide which students need help, what kind, and who will provide it. It makes sense to let schools set the schedules that work best for their staff and students, including offering tutoring during lunch, after school, or during March Break if they see fit.

The ministry provides the guidance and resources while educators bring their expertise to this team effort, as it should be. Hopefully the government has learned to refrain from micromanagement.

The plan includes $42 million in additional funding for community groups that sprang into action when the strike began. They opened their doors to children who had nowhere else to go or anything else to do when their parents had to go to work. They provided meals to hungry children who were missing out on school lunch programs. They did so without knowing how they would pay their own bills as the strike dragged on.

This money is a recognition of the essential work these nonprofits do, day in and day out. But it is also a lesson that community groups should be treated as true partners and receive stable funding.

Many questions remain about why more than a year of contract negotiations still resulted in tens of thousands of teachers having to go on strike without pay and hundreds of thousands of students losing a large portion of their school year when they were supposed to. that education must be carried out. be Quebec’s top priority.

If we didn’t understand it before, it should be abundantly clear now: teachers are some of our most important workers. And children belong in their classrooms.

The lesson of this painful chapter should be that Quebec should not take education for granted.

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