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B.C.: Chinese parents disagree with Canadian teachers’ right to strike

Chuck Chiang: Many Asian families place blame for strike firmly with teachers

September is the month during which several East Asian countries — especially Chinese-speaking nations — celebrate Teachers’ Day. For international students in B.C. from those regions, the irony is impossible to ignore.

Students traditionally present gifts to their elementary or high school teachers on the various Teachers’ Days (the first Friday of September for Singapore, Sept. 10 in China and Hong Kong, and Sept. 28 in Taiwan).

In China, the gift giving has grown so lavish (think tablet computers, cosmetics and luxury apparel) that Beijing has had to crack down on the practice in conjunction with the anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping in 2012.

Some Asian cultures also hold performances honouring teachers. Taiwan in particular puts on elaborate temple ceremonies to celebrate the birthday of Confucius, the legendary educator and philosopher whose teachings helped create the Chinese education system.

B.C.’s teachers are unlikely to be the objects of such reverence this year. Suffice to say that the labour dispute that has now cancelled four weeks of classes (two in June, two so far in September) is not going over well in the province’s Chinese community.

The visceral reactions of Chinese parents (and East Asians more generally) is a curious case study in how wide the cultural gap can be between mainstream Canadians and minority communities when it comes to how some issues are perceived.

There is no doubt that Chinese-speaking parents — either of international students or of Chinese-Canadian children — disagree with other parents about who is to blame for the current labour dispute. In a recent Social Insights poll, while 44 per cent of respondents in the Chinese community said both parties should be held responsible for the school shutdown, 40 per cent put the blame solely with the teachers, and just four per cent blamed the provincial government.

By comparison, among the general B.C. population, opinion is evenly split, with 36 per cent supporting teachers and 35 per cent supporting the government.

Then came news last week that parents in China were so upset by the strike (and how it was affecting the education of their children here as international student) that many had requested that the Chinese consulate intervene. And Chinese parents in B.C. organized protests earlier this month to express their displeasure (mostly with the BCTF) about the interruption to their children’s education.

There are several reasons why these families likely hold such strong opinions. Firstly, very few who grew up in an Asian education system will have ever heard of (let alone experienced) a teachers’ strike, and certainly not one that lasted as long as the current situation in B.C. Many recent immigrants express shock that teachers even have a legal right to strike.

Other than Hong Kong, no East Asian country has a teachers’ union with membership numbers above 50 per cent of all those employed in the sector. Compare that to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, in which membership is compulsory for all teachers at B.C. public schools.

Also, the teachers’ unions that do exist in Asia tend to be more radically left-wing, and therefore more marginalized from mainstream popular opinion.

In countries where strikes are allowed (South Korea, Japan), teachers’ unions are under intense social pressure to avoid labour disruptions at all costs. In Taiwan, teachers are not legally allowed to strike. In China, “unions” work more as an organizational or logistical arm of the government and do not take a role of collective bargaining.


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