Photo by: Jared Stevenson (Newshub)

As the biggest strike in New Zealand history looms, a tectonic microscope is being cast over our education system.

Primary and secondary teachers have voted to strike on Wednesday in an unprecedented industrial action that’s being labelled a “Super Strike”.

Schools will shut down across the country as 50,000 teachers take to the streets to protest working conditions that have seen a mass exodus from the industry due to a lack of resourcing, stagnated wages, and unwieldly teacher-to-student ratios.

At the Young Workers Resource Centre (YWRC) we’ve noticed first hand how difficult the classroom environment is for teachers. We visit classrooms around the country to deliver employment rights seminars and our educators often come away feeling like a tackle bag after rugby training – and we’re only there for an hour! Teaching can be a demanding, emotionally draining, and energy sapping profession and teachers want to give their best to each and every student under their care. But with the class sizes we’ve seen that’s just not possible.

Columnist David Slack summed it up neatly in his recent column, “Who’d be a teacher eh? They dump all of society’s biggest problems on you like you’re Einstein then pay you like you’re his pet monkey.”

Teachers, through their unions NZEI and PPTA, are asking for the government to be bold and reduce ratios from 29 down to 25 for every teacher; for a 15 per cent increase in wages over three years; for a special needs education coordinator at every school; for additional hours outside the classroom to plan.

I don’t think this requires the government to be bold at all. These are not unreasonable expectations – hell, these are the basics! Such demands are the minimum we should expect for the people who are preparing our children for tomorrow.

If we’re going to talk about bold solutions then we need look no further than the community hub model proposed by the Green Party. Their idea would make schools the linchpin of our communities, wrapping community services into the school framework, with things like health, budgeting, adult learning and more provided on school grounds and led by a range of professionals in partnership with teachers.

Bolder still is the Finnish education system where education is free from pre-school to tertiary and teachers are required to have a masters degree, for which they are paid extremely handsomely. The result? One of the most productive countries in the world with a high state of technological development and economic diversity. Duh.

Instead of encouraging teachers to look elsewhere if they’re not happy with the trajectory of their industry, we should be listening to their concerns and their ideas and using it as an opportunity to create a dynamic education system that is the envy the world.

Where all our tamariki are provided with the foundation to lead successful, meaningful lives. But no – we don’t like to spend money here in New Zealand. Bold solutions get hacked to pieces until they become so unrecognisable as to do little more than smear lipstick on the piggy bank. But hey, at least they fit neatly into our conservative little excel spreadsheets.

We may look back on this Superstrike as a watershed moment where we finally realised the value we need to put on our education system. Or it could be just another moment where our government wimps out on the transformative reform that’s really needed.

Which direction we go in will be determined by everyday Kiwis like you and me. Teacher strikes live and die by the support they receive from the community so we need to let them, and the government, know that we have their backs. I’ll be out there marching with the teachers on Wednesday morning – see you there.

Find out more about how you can support the teachers’ joint strike action on 29 May on the NZEI website here.

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