Education assistant shortage due to working conditions, not lack of training, claims union representative

Two-thirds of the way through the academic year, schools across British Columbia are still lacking teachers and some are finding creative ways of addressing the shortage from cross-country recruitment to hiring replacements without certifications.

Burnaby School District is starting a short in-house diploma program for EAs

In 2016, the B.C. Teachers' Federation won a landmark decision in the Supreme Court of Canada that returned its right to limit class size and, since then, nearly 3,500 teachers have been hired. (CBC)

Two-thirds of the way through the academic year, some schools across British Columbia are still lacking teachers and finding creative ways of addressing the shortage from cross-country recruitment to hiring non-certified replacements.  

Last week, the Burnaby School District announced it will be launching an in-house diploma program to train and recruit education assistants to support students in the classroom who need extra attention.

They say post-secondary programs are not producing enough graduates to keep up with the demand.

But some education assistants are blaming the shortage on poor working conditions — an issue, they say, more training programs won't solve.

"I love working as an EA [education assistant], but there are definitely some issues that need to be addressed," said Shona Kelly who has worked as an education assistant in Burnaby for 20 years.

Kelly is the shop steward for CUPE Local 379, the union representing education assistants.

"We don't make a decent living wage," Kelly said. "I know of some EAs who hold down two or three jobs. They are getting burnt out."

The average salary for a teaching assistant ranges between $24 to $28 per hour, she told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

Not enough hours in the day

Education assistants work from bell-to-bell and are not given enough time to prepare for the students they support or to follow up afterwards, Kelly added.

"There is no time for preparation. There is no time to collaborate with teachers," she said. "We need more hours in the day and we need more public funding for sure."

Kelly said solutions, like Burnaby's decision to train more education assistants, don't address the underlying problems with recruitment.

"In theory, it's a great idea to have this program," she said. "It allows others to figure out if this is an area of expertise that people want to get into and just take a glimpse at the job."

But Kelly also has some worries the program is not long enough to be a permanent solution, compared to the schooling education assistants usually undergo.

The district's course will start in July and end in November, followed by a four-week practicum.

"We have concerns that the standard of education is being lowered in order for someone to come into a classroom," she said. "Most EAs, we've gone to school for two years and we've had to do three or four practicums."

Two-thirds of the way through the academic year, schools across British Columbia are still lacking teachers and some are turning to drastic ways of addressing the shortage from cross-country recruitment to hiring replacements without certifications. 7:40

With files from The Early Edition.