Once upon a time in the land of Ghana, there was the saying that, the teacher’s reward was in heaven. Funny! Wasn’t it? What about the teacher who could not go to heaven? Where was his/her reward? In hell? One could argue that hitherto teachers in Ghana had been poorly paid and their working conditions not commensurate to the services they rendered. The teachers’ union in Ghana-the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) had to sit up and fight for the few “better” conditions teachers enjoy in the country. Perhaps the same could be said of teachers in the Ontario Province of Canada. Not until recently teachers in the province had to live with poor conditions of service. It took the dynamic leadership of teachers’ unions in Ontario to negotiate with the provincial government (in Canada education is the responsibility of the Provinces) to get better service conditions for teachers in the province some years back. Such negotiations were devoid of industrial actions. They were peaceful and mature! Why are we now experiencing teachers’ strike actions in both Ghana and Ontario as a means to “forcing” governments to improve teachers’ working conditions? Are teachers asking too much of the national cake? Or are governments being insensitive to the plight of education nowadays and as such making the work of teachers too difficult as well as insignificant? A Noble Profession: From time immemorial, teaching has been a noble profession. From the days of Socrates to the time of Paul of the Bible students/graduates had spoken highly of their teachers (also called masters in some instances). The Holy Bible mentions teaching as one of the three top spiritual gifts from God that we must desire most for the growth of His church (read 1 Corth. 12:28). Interesting! Teachers make the medical doctors, the lawyers, the accountants, the engineers, the agriculturalists, the musicians, the pastors, the politicians, the nurses, the computer analysts and many other workers who contribute effectively to the building of a nation anywhere. This noble profession which propels education should not be seen at loggerheads with the main provider of education to the detriment of students and parents as being experienced in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, which hosts most of the immigrants to Canada from all parts of the world including Ghana. The Toronto Situation: The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Toronto Catholic School Board (TCSB), since February, have been in confrontational position with their teachers over negotiations of contracts. The Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT) have been on work to rule position to demand fair deal from the TDSB, which is now taken over by the Tory government. Late this month, the ETT issued a memorandum to its stewards indicating, “As the Mediator recognized, we have reached an impasse. A wild gulf remains between the employer’s position and ETT’s. The employer has given no indication that it is prepared to seriously address the workload/supervision issue.” The employer fires back two days later, using ETT’s own slogan: Enough is Enough! And argues its case, “ The TDSB spends more than $8million on lunchroom supervision….Apparently you have convinced your members that the long-term goal of the TDSB is to remove this cost and replace it with “free” supervision by teachers.” The issue of workload is now standing in the way of smooth negotiation and contract between ETT and TDSB. And if a solution were not found sooner than later the TDSB might lock out Toronto elementary school teachers as the TCSB did to its teachers in Toronto for about two and half weeks. It took legislative instrument at the Provincial level early last week to re-open the doors of Catholic elementary schools in Toronto for teachers and students to resume their academic work there. Fortunately, the ETT and the TDSB, with the assistance of mediator reached a tentative settlement on Wednesday, June 4, 2003. The tentative settlement is subject to ratification by ETT members by June 12, 2003. A communiqué issued on June 4, 2003 by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) to Toronto elementary public school teachers, states among others, “We have reached this settlement because of ETT members’ determination to achieve fair compensation and benefits along with protection against arbitrary and unreasonable increases in non-teaching supervision time.” ETT members voted on June 12, 2003 to accept the tentative agreement reached between their union and the TDSB. Highlights of the 2-year term agreement include: Salary increase of 7.28% (compounded end rate increase). This salary increase is retroactive to September 2002. The Board will maintain the October 30, 2002, levels of scheduled supervision for teachers within each school for the 2003-2004 school year. New teacher’s probationary period is shortened to one year to two years. The Board endorses the concept of efficient and productive staff meetings held at reasonable intervals. The restriction on teachers working for another employer while on an unpaid leave of absence is removed. However, work for another employer while on an unpaid leave of absence will not count as “related experience” or “teaching experience” for salary purposes. Though the tentative agreement has been ratified by 90.3% of the membership of ETT, it is just a paper if teachers don’t make sure the Board honors the agreement it made with the teachers in good faith.
Meanwhile, elementary teachers employed by the Simcoe County District School Board in Ontario-Canada were also, at the time of writing, engaged in a work-to-rule campaign, which began on May 28. The ETFO has “pink-listed” the Simcoe County District School. This means that ETFO members in other jurisdictions, as well as all graduating and current teachers anywhere in Canada are advised not to apply for, or accept, any occasional or regular elementary teaching position with the Simcoe County District School Board. Thus, the Ontario government still has pockets of teachers’ industrial actions to contend with in the province.
Former Premier of Ontario Urges Support for Ontario Teachers:
According to the June 6, 2003 issue of the Toronto Star, an ex-premier of the province has pleaded for future of education, urging support for Ontario teachers and describing teaching as the “most relevant profession we have”. The paper reports, Praising teachers as hard working and deserving of our support, former Ontario premier William Davis made an impassioned plea for the preservation of public education in the province yesterday during the Toronto City Summit Alliance.
In a speech that drew a standing ovation, the former premier also took aim at the education policies of the Ernie Eves government, making it clear that while the province has recently had an acrimonious relationship with teachers, Davis sides with the teachers. So it is obvious that the “old schoolmasters” in the Ontario government are even against the treatment their own government is meting out to teachers in the province! Are teachers asking for too much of the national cake? The Situation as in Ghana: The situation in Ghana though not as turbulent as in Ontario also calls for the same question: Are Teachers Asking for Too Much of the National Cake? Ghana News Agency (GNA) news report carried on ghanaweb.com general news of Tuesday, 10 June 2003 read in part, “The Amansie West District branch of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) has threatened to embark on street protest if the government failed to restore teachers to the Cap 30 Pension Scheme by August”. Though the Ashanti Regional GNAT Secretary was also reported to have asked the teachers to work harder to raise the standard of education, he also called on the government to “provide incentive packages for teachers, who accepted to work in deprived rural communities.” As much as I would appreciate incentive packages for teachers who work in rural or “needy” communities, I would like to see a comprehensive appraisal and overhauling of conditions of service for teachers to make them more dedicated to the profession they have chosen. This should include teacher training and in-service training for serving teachers. One would argue, they knew the profession before entering it. It’s a sacrificial job! Well, how long should teachers (obviously, makers of the all workers who build the national economy) be made to sacrificed their welfare and quality of education at the altar of the national cake? Could teachers be asking for too much? Should our education systems be made to suffer by disagreements between governments and teachers’ unions? Is there any better way of ending teachers’ strikes other than legislating them back to work? Conclusion: The situation is bad. Students and parents are suffering. Are teachers asking for too much or the Tory government is cutting back too much of its educational funding especially to Toronto School Boards where many immigrant students receive their education? Are teachers in Ghana as in Ontario also asking for too much or is the Ghana government becoming negligent towards the welfare of teachers and the quality of education in that country as a whole? The best investment any country could make for its younger generation is to invest in quality and inclusive education. Together we must fight to give our children everywhere the education they need. Knowledge is Power, but ignorance is a disease! Joe Kingsley Eyiah, University of Toronto, Toronto-Canada Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.