Education Is a Right!

Alberta Teachers and Students Demand Working
and Learning Conditions that Guarantee
Education as a Right for All

Teachers are using the Alberta election as an opportunity to take to a new level their ongoing battle to provide the right to education with a guarantee. Teachers are making class size and classroom composition issues in the election. The Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) has stepped up its Class Size Matters campaign and is also providing information and materials on other important issues in education. The ATA has produced thousands of postcards that highlight the issue of unacceptably large classes.

In its own words, the ATA is a "fiercely non-partisan" organization. It does not support or oppose any political party but intervenes politically in and out of elections to advocate for conditions in education that will allow students to flourish and meet their full potential. These include the practical conditions teachers require to do their work in support of their students.

Teachers are going door to door and speaking with their neighbours about their concerns with the present conditions in the education system. The refusal of governments to provide the necessary investments to solve the problem of class sizes violates the demands not only of students and teachers but of the entire polity. Based on teachers' door-to-door experience so far, it is clear that people are concerned about the state of education and express a sentiment that something must be done.

For years, chronic underfunding of the education system has resulted in deteriorating conditions in schools. When asked what problems they face in classrooms, teachers overwhelmingly state that class sizes are the biggest cause for concern. Secondly, they are seeing an increasing number of students with special needs being integrated into regular classrooms without the additional supports they require to be successful. Also of concern is the fact that wages have been frozen for six of the last seven years, with a raise of about 2.5 per cent (varying slightly for each school board) in 2015. When the cost of living is considered, this means teachers' salaries have been cut by about 7.5 per cent since 2012.

The 2003 Alberta Commission on Learning (ACOL) report included guidelines for classroom sizes, which suggested 17 students for K-3. The ATA reports: "Last school year, 81 per cent of K-3 classes were larger than the [ACOL] guidelines and all but five school jurisdictions exceeded the target set by ACOL. These averages also don't fairly represent the large number of classes that are significantly larger than the average. Since 2002, the proportion of core classes with 40 or more students has grown by 600 per cent."

Teachers' actions in this election build on the campaign launched last year when teachers sent postcards to Members of the Legislative Assembly informing them of conditions in classrooms, and posted those images widely on social media as well. The ATA also declared April 9 a candidate contact blitz day, encouraging teachers to be in touch with candidates and ask them how they plan to uphold the right to education by ensuring that schools have adequate resources to meet the needs of students and teachers.

Another very serious concern is the gaping hole separating general high school completion rates in Alberta and those of Indigenous students. Overall, 80 per cent of students complete high school within five years, while only 60 per cent of Indigenous students do so.

The NDP government's policy says it funds education according to the increase in population. This means the per capita amount per student remains the same. The PC government, which was defeated in 2015, advocated no funding for population increases. In the NDP's last government budget, the education operations and maintenance budget was cut, and student transportation remained the same despite the increase in student numbers, as did the governance and system administration budget. The NDP budget contained no funding to meet the claims of teachers who are moving up the salary grid, and the funding for students with identified special needs falls far below what school boards actually allocate. The result has been a shortfall in other areas leading to further increases in class sizes.

For example, the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) states that it requires an additional $21 million in funding just to maintain its existing level of service, even without adding more students. The CBE also points out that government funding in all areas falls short of what is required. It states that $136 million in allocated funding goes to support the 21,000 students with identified special needs, while actual government funding only accounts for $78 million. Similarly, support targeted at the 29,000 English Language Learners in the CBE totals $31 million, while government grants in this area total only $23.5 million.

Teachers are discussing why this is the case. Is it true that the problem is "lack of money?" Such an argument does not hold any water because education is not a cost to society. Education is essential to the functioning of a modern society and adds immense value. The younger generation must acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be active citizens. Investments in education are realized over and over in the form of value transferred into the economy and society. This value is embedded within their students and transferred into the service or goods they produce when they work.

A problem occurs with the refusal of companies to realize (pay for) the value they receive from social programs such as education and the refusal of governments to force them to do so. The refusal to realize the value of education within the economy is responsible for the continued underfunding of education. Far from contributing to a vibrant economy organized to meet the needs of the people, the refusal of companies and government to realize the value of education contributes to the deepening of the economic crisis and collapse of the living and working conditions of the people.

Education is a right. This principle of a modern society forms the basis of the claims of students to have their right to education guaranteed and the right of teachers to be accorded the tools and conditions to fulfil this right. Students and teachers have broad support from the working people to guarantee education as a right for all. The people are concerned with providing a bright future for the youth and meeting the needs of society. For governments to deprive the people and society of this right is to abdicate their social responsibility and render them unfit to govern.

Teachers have not abandoned the fight taken up in 2002 to bring their working conditions and students' learning conditions up to a level necessary to guarantee education as a right for all in the twenty-first century. The need is clear for teachers to strengthen their organization and independent stand in defence of public education and increased funding for all social programs. The youth today together with their teachers and all education workers are determined to build the New. They declare with one voice that those political forces that refuse to uphold their social responsibility towards the youth and society will be cast aside in favour of the New.

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 13 - April 13, 2019

Article Link:
United Conservative Party Uses Straw Men to
Attack Alberta's Curriculum Reform


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