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Autonomous Federation of Education – When will the real election campaign begin?

The Autonomous Federation of Education (FAE) deplores the fact that political parties in Quebec have not made education a priority in their election promises since August 28, 2022, ignoring the crying needs of one million students, young people and adults, but also educational staff, including teachers. The FAE is therefore calling on leaders of all political parties to start a real election campaign, during which they will discuss the fundamental issues of education, such as the creation of a fair school system.

The Ministry of Education (MEQ) is the second budget item of the Quebec government after the Ministry of Health and Social Services. Logically, this importance should have been reflected in the issues that were addressed during the election campaign, while Quebec’s school system is flooded with problems. However, according to Mesure Media, a Quebec company that determines the gains and losses of media reputation, the topic of education has received just under 9% of mentions in traditional media since the start of the campaign. Even subject 3e the reference to Quebec damned the pawn on education.

“Since August, political parties have been promising to invest millions of dollars in infrastructure and healthcare, to fight inflation, to fight the shortage of workers, etc. However, the biggest asset a government should invest in is its people and its education. Political parties have no excuse: the problems in education are known to everyone and solutions exist. When will the real election campaign start? asks Mélanie Hubert, president of the FAE, as the elections will be held in less than two weeks.

Of the 129 minutes that lasted for the first leaders’ debate, broadcast last Thursday on TVA, the leaders of the political parties will debate education for only 14 minutes. “How do you want to interest young people in democracy if the political class is not interested in them? This is the best way to cultivate indifference. In addition, leaders too often approach the problem of labor shortages, such as in the teaching profession, from the perspective of salary increases that do not allow us to reach even the Canadian average. That’s window treatment! Teachers will stay in education, otherwise young teachers will expand thanks to better working conditions, such as a reduction in the teaching load focused on teaching”, stressed Mrs. Hubert.

“Less than two weeks remain for the political parties to rectify the situation and discuss education. The leaders will have the last chance, on September 22, during the second leaders’ debate, to propose structuring and relevant solutions to the ills of education. They cannot be missing there,” he concludes.

For the Autonomous Federation of Education, there are priorities that should be discussed in the context of an election campaign worthy of the name.

Creating a fair school system

The Quebec school is one of the most unequal schools in Canada. This is mainly due to the high number of high school students attending a private institution. There is a three-speed school in Quebec, even the UN recognizes it and is concerned about it. In 2019-2020, 12% of Quebec students attended private schools, including 20% ​​in high school, compared to only 7% in Ontario. In addition, the Quebec private school, which chooses its students, is the most funded in Canada. For every $3 that Quebec puts into its public schools, it gives more than $2 of public money to the private sector.

As if that wasn’t enough, in 2021 the percentage of students with disabilities or social or learning disabilities (HDAA) in public secondary schools was 31.5%. In the private network, if we exclude specialized schools financed 100% by the state, this rate would rise to 15.9%. Private schools are clearly not up to the task!

We know that private schools mainly serve privileged families: 72% of students attending these institutions come from this background.

FAE solutions: implement an end to public funding of private schools and make public schools completely free, including all costs of special education programs.

Urgently invest in public schools

Underfunding in recent decades has had dramatic consequences for education. Cuts in school system funding resulted in nearly $1.5 billion in cuts between 2010 and 2016.

Direct investment in schools from 2018 will barely cover system costs. The successive reforms to standardize the school tax have resulted in nearly $5 billion in revenue losses for MEQ over the past 5 years.

Quebec’s school fund stands out for its building decay, which is four times greater than the buildings in the health network. The maintenance deficit of school buildings continues to deepen despite the announced amounts, 59% of school buildings will still be in an unacceptable condition (D or E) in 2022-2023, i.e. 3% more than in 2021-2022.

FAE’s Solution: Quebec urgently needs massive investment in public schools with continued and predictable growth, taking into account inflation, enrollment growth and a significant backlog.

Better workload for teachers

Teaching in the current education system represents a colossal burden, which is not limited to the time spent in class with students. Time management is often difficult. It is necessary to consider not only all possible unforeseen events, but also schedule adjustments and improvised exchanges with third parties, adaptation to digital, organization of work, which often lead to psychological overload. We know that teaching is one of the professions most affected by psychological distress and it is clear that the workload has a significant impact on the mental health of teachers.

Inadequate resources mean that teachers have to regularly supplement this deficiency in order to ensure the proper functioning of classes and the development of students despite everything. In addition, different services often increase the task, especially because of the multiple follow-up actions that need to be performed.

It is also necessary to consider the composition of the class itself, which is an important factor in the calculation of working hours; HDAA students inevitably require more time and work, and class composition must accommodate this.

It is also important to take into account that teachers, like all other workers, have a personal life that must be respected. Work-life balance is still sorely lacking in the profession as a whole.

FAE solutions: the workload must be re-evaluated so that it is appropriate and reoriented towards teaching. The composition of the class should reflect more realistic proportions. The work-life balance of teachers must also be emphasized.

Establish a fair management of public finances

Access to adequate, quality housing, to a household income that allows people to cross the low-income line, to a social safety net that helps mitigate the vagaries of life (illness, mortality, accident, etc.) are the basic living conditions for students’ educational success.

It is a collective responsibility to enable our most vulnerable children to graduate by providing them with the tools, services and support to achieve this goal. Universal access to quality public services, as well as targeted social programs corresponding to the real costs of living, are the basic pillars of a fair and developed society.

Québec’s fiscal health is excellent and its net debt weight is below the average of other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

AWF’s solution: finding a balanced budget and paying down the debt should not come at the expense of funding public services. The balanced budget law and contributions to the Generation Fund must be reviewed, the sums paid into it must be reinvested in public services, preferably in education.

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