With nearly 7,800 teachers now on strike in Norway, the significant jump in numbers is a sign that educators are refusing to back down as students return to classrooms across the country.
The Union of Education Norway (UEN) strike that began with only a handful of teachers is showing no sign of being resolved as members continue to join the picket line as the summer break ends.
“This very serious situation has been created mainly because employers’ organisations (for the municipalities and counties) have demanded a different model for organising teachers’ working hours,” said UEN President and Education International (EI) Executive Board member Ragnhild Lied.
One of the proposals that teachers have rejected demands that they be available at school for at least 7.5 hours every workday, as well as abolishing the central agreement that regulates the maximum number of teaching hours per year. In addition, employers also wanted to manage every hour teachers are available at the workplace, thereby abolishing the current regulations guaranteeing teachers’ time for planning, preparations and assessment.”
Despite a compromise reached in May, UEN members voted against it in an historic referendum where more than two-thirds of members participated and 73 per cent voted against it.
Teacher autonomy is crucial
Trust is at the centre of this conflict, according to the union. However, teachers perceive the employers’ demand that they should spend 7.5 hours at the workplace every day as mistrust in their professional judgment. The union says it believes that teachers need to manage parts of their own working hours, as their duties and responsibilities as professionals requires flexibility.
“Lately, we have also seen a tendency towards teachers being given additional responsibilities and tasks; this takes time away from professional issues and teaching,” Lied stressed. These responsibilities include administrative routines, cleaning and caretaker duties, she added.
According to UEN, teachers also fear that the burden of non-teaching duties will increase if they are forced to spend more of their working hours within the school. To provide quality education, it is important to let the teachers be teachers.
“We have approached other EI member organisations to get more information on how teachers’ working hours are regulated in other countries where the school systems and cultures can be compared to ours,” said Lied. “We hope that we can learn and discuss these issues with our colleagues in other countries and continue building strong alliances across borders to defend professional freedom and provide every child with quality education.”
EI: Quality teachers a pillar of quality education
EI supports UEN’s struggle to ensure equal access to quality education for all, said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “We also insist that teachers’ professionalism must be acknowledged,” he added. “We also believe that it is of outmost importance that teachers are qualified and get in-service training. Our campaign, Unite for Quality Education, further stresses that quality education systems depend on quality teachers, as well as quality teaching and learning tools and environments.”