At Protest for a Better Education System, a Noticeable Lack of Students

By Rosalie Dielesen

– On March 15, 40 000 protesters came together in The Hague at the Malieveld to demonstrate for a better education system. While the grassfield was teeming with teachers, students were largely conspicuous by their absence.

This was an unusual protest for pedagogy because all levels of the education system decided to strike on the same day. There were around 2000 primary schools, elementary schools, high schools and universities that decided to join the protest, and either dismissed class or nullified their attendance policy. The main purpose of the demonstration was to increase investment in the education sector, to increase wages and relieve work-pressure. The Algemene Onderwijs Bond (AOB) and WOinActie were the main organisers of the event. The AOB is a large education association and serves as a consulting tool between the government, school boards and other interest groups. WOinActie is  a movement of students and employees, committed to the future of higher education.

According to the AOB representative Fayzal Alibaks, the reason behind the collaboration and the protest taking place on such a national level is that “the classes are too big, work pressure is too high and therefore teachers are not given the opportunity to grow within their profession.” As a result, the AOB has pointed out that a large investment of 4 billion euros is needed for the education sector to improve – this was outlined in a more in depth financial statement issued in January.

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At the protest itself there was a significant number of teachers present, advocating for a better future. The average age of protesters was high with a visible lack of students. This might be due to the Women’s March and Climate March taking place on March 9 and 10, respectively. This was confirmed by Gerde Spierings and Marleen van der Wolde, both high school teachers in Amsterdam. “A lot of students made our banners and many support us” said van der Wolde. “They are however not present today, because a large part of the students marched for the Climate.”

On the other hand, at the protest there were quite some younger children present, holding banners with “when will I see my mommy taking care of me, instead of other people’s children.” Winnie Krens, a teacher and mother in Leiden, had the same idea. “I brought my children to the protest to show them that everything is not right, and that their mom does not always get paid fairly and life is not that easy,” Krens said whilst looking at her playing children. “If you disagree with something you should show your children that you have a voice.”

That there were not many students present does not mean that there were none. The student organisation Algemene Studenten Vereniging Amsterdam (ASVA) was present early at the protest to show their support. Member Tijmen de Vos stated that the lack of students was not due to lack of interest, but to the fact that unlike the other two protests the demonstration happened on a Friday and not a weekend.

Remco de Breuker, representative of WoinActie, agreed with de Vos and pointed to the fact that many students have more than their education calling for their attention during weekdays, such as jobs. “But overall I am satisfied with the [number] of students that came,” said De Breuker. “In the end we are all in this together.”

Lotte Peetz, Amsterdam University College alumna, pointed out an additional reason to why so few students showed up. “I was simply not aware of the protest happening that day,” she said.

The students of the Vrije Universiteit (VU) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA), received an official message to make them aware of the protest and their right to miss classes. The VU’s announcement website stated that the attendance requirement was cancelled for all activities, and for those that had to miss an exam, another opportunity to take it would be arranged. AUC students were not extended the right to miss classes and exams, nor was a specific message about the protest sent out to the students. It was mentioned in the weekly student newsletter sent out on February 21, but those who did not scroll far enough may have felt as uninformed as Lieselotte Oudega, third-year Social Science major. “I was not aware of the protest, and [only] vaguely conscious of the specific issues in the education system,” said Oudega.

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