The North Star


Teacher shortage

Québec government improvises solutions

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In Québec, the teacher shortage denounced for years by education unions has just reached a new peak. Just a few days before the start of the school year, Bernard Drainville, Minister of Education, announced that 8,558 teaching positions were still vacant. At that time last year, there was a shortfall of 5,335 teachers. According to the education community, the solutions proposed by the Minister leave much to be desired.

Added to this is a significant shortfall in support staff. The school network is short some 1,440 special education technicians, 1,608 daycare educators, 912 psychoeducators, speech therapists and psychologists.

Bernard Drainville announced that he could not guarantee that every classroom would be open and have a teacher by the start of the school year. His goal is to have at least one adult, qualified or not, per class. "Sometimes it's that or nothing at all," he told a press conference. Last year, some positions remained vacant all year long.

Geneviève Sirois, a researcher at the Interuniversity Research Centre on Teacher Training and the Teaching Profession, deplores the lack of a strategy on the part of the Ministry of Education to tackle the root of the problem. She describes as "laughable" the bonus introduced by Drainville to retain teachers on the verge of retirement as an emergency solution. In Montreal, only five teachers chose to take the bonus and postpone their retirement, out of some 250 departures.

Mélanie Hubert, president of the Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE), worries about the impact the shortage will have on students' education. "It's absurd that we've collectively come to consider that putting 'one adult' in front of a class is a solution, hoping that it will be enough to educate and instruct our children."

For the FAE and the Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement (FSE), the solution to the shortage lies in improving teachers' working conditions. Mélanie Hubert declared in an interview: "The feedback we're getting from the field is that what's going to make the difference is changing what happens in the classroom on a daily basis, and that's what negotiations are going to solve."

The government is currently negotiating a new collective agreement with the teachers' unions. While the FAE negotiating committee offered five days of availability per week, the employer side offered only one. When the FAE negotiating committee asked for talks to be accelerated, the government claimed that they had already been intensified.

Both the FAE and the FSE are raising the possibility of a strike to break the deadlock in negotiations. The FAE has already called for a work-to-rule strike among its members. A work-to-rule strike refers to an action where workers perform their tasks strictly according to official rules and procedures, pushing them to the point of absurdity, with the aim of slowing down work and protesting without stopping service altogether. In addition, the Alliance des Professeures et Professeurs de Montréal, which represents the largest school service center in Québec, has adopted a 98% mandate for an unlimited general strike.

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