A national student protest for more in-person education during another coronavirus flare-up among young people: is that wise? As a precaution, the protest organisers had asked demonstrators from outside Amsterdam to stay at home. Students could, however, participate online.
But on arrival at Museumplein in Amsterdam, there were few reasons for concern. Around 100 demonstrators, wearing face masks, stayed obediently one-and-a-half metres away from each other on their own pink spot. Some carried cardboard signs with the hashtag #ikwilnaarschool (I want to go to school).
The organisers, wearing bright yellow jackets, patrolled the area in wide circles keeping an eagle eye on the proceedings. They only had to ask an occasional interviewing journalist to take a step back. A little further on, three policemen looked on rather bored from beneath the trees.
The students want universities and universities of applied sciences to offer more in-person education. They think the government should provide funding to enable universities to hire empty theatres and conference centres.
Cato van Hoegee, Secretary of the Amsterdam student union ASVA took to the stage. “There are first-year students who have no idea who they’re studying with. They only know their co-students as a black screen with a mute button. We can do better than this!” Her speech was interrupted every now and then by applause. “So, dearest government,” she concluded, “don’t let students fall by the wayside.”
National Student Union Chair, Lyle Muns, was delighted with the turnout. As well as the protesters on the grass, some 900 students expressed their support online, he explained. “It became a true national protest and we’re really pleased about that.”
According to him, this was really necessary. “We already raised the lack of in-person education with the cabinet before the summer. And we were told at that time that they’d search for creative solutions. But these aren’t yet emerging everywhere across the country.”
But what lecturers and staff think of this is the question. Do they want to stand in front of the class regularly now that the virus is flaring up again?
Muns understands these concerns. “But we’ve also heard from lecturers who think it’s good that we’re protesting, because they’re also feeling really limited by online education. Don’t forget that lecturers are often the first to be confronted about this by students.”
Don’t expect miracles
University of applied sciences front man, Maurice Limmen, talked to the press at the edge of the square. Why is he here? “We want to show that we fully understand where these students are coming from. And that the universities of applied sciences are doing everything they can to provide good education.”
Does he have a message for the current generation of ‘online students’? “Have faith,” he said. “But don’t expect miracles from your appeal for external education locations.” According to him, there are drawbacks particularly with practical education: you can’t simply move a laboratory or a garage to a theatre hall.
The sound system was disconnected after exactly one hour. The students strolled home – always a safe distance apart – and the policemen got on their bicycles. Limmen, a former union rep himself, was impressed. “This is the most disciplined protest I’ve ever seen,” he said.