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As Quebec teachers strike drags on, fears rise about children's welfare


As a Quebec teachers strike drags on, parents and child development experts warn the resulting classroom closures will have a profound effect on some students' education.

The Fédération Autonome de l'Enseignement, which represents about 66,000 teachers, launched an unlimited general strike on Nov. 23, shutting around 800 public schools across the province, including at the province's largest school board in Montreal.

Students at those schools face at least two more weeks without classes as the holiday vacation approaches and the union and Quebec government remain unable to reach a deal.

Parents are already reporting that the extended break is dampening some students' motivation to learn or, in the case of older students, to pursue post-secondary education, said Mélanie Laviolette, president of a group that represents parents of schoolchildren.

She also worries the classroom closures will compound literacy and socialization challenges already aggravated by school shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Laviolette's organization, the Fédération des comités de parents du Québec, has refrained from taking an official position during the labour dispute, and she says its members understand striking teachers' concerns about what they say is a lack of resources in classrooms. She acknowledged, however, that parents are eager to see a resolution.

"Everyone agrees that it's been too long already," she said in an interview Thursday.

Dr. Gilles Julien, co-founder of the Fondation Dr. Julien — a Montreal-based organization that advocates for vulnerable children — fears the successive interruptions in learning over the last few years could permanently damage some children's development.

"It's very, very worrying because we run the risk of not being able to recover these children," he said of students who face learning gaps due to the pandemic, calling their experience a trauma.

Those same children are once again in a similar situation, he said. "It's like a cohort of children … who risk being handicapped for life because of this type of trauma."

Julien insisted neither teachers nor the government should be held responsible for these consequences, and he cautioned against pitting students' right to an education against teachers' right to strike for better working conditions.

But he does wish Quebec would recognize education as an essential service like health care, which must guarantee a certain level of care during strikes.

Julien said schools should be able to offer something similar, maintaining some key positions to keep libraries open and ensure access to some teachers, for example.

"It affects children's health and development significantly," he said.

In addition to potentially further disadvantaging already vulnerable students, long absences from school could exacerbate social inequities, according to Gabrielle Garon-Carrier, a Université de Sherbrooke education professor who studies child development.

Students who rely on school for regular meals, for instance, could be without that nutritional support, she explained in an interview.

"It will create inequalities," Garon-Carrier said. "I think the effects will be seen mainly in the way young people function at school, and perhaps it will further weaken those who were already having difficulties."

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2023. Top Stories

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