About 100 protesters have spaced themselves out across Museumplein in Amsterdam wearing face masks, each standing on their own circle. They are students campaigning for more face-to-face education. The police are there to keep an eye on things from the side lines.
“The minister has asked us to come up with creative solutions, and we have them!” says Ama Boahene opening the demonstration. She is one of the organizers of the action group #ikwilnaarschool (meaning ‘I want to go to school’), which organized the protest together with the Amsterdam student unions ASVA and SRVU and the National Student Union. “All those buildings that are empty right now, all across the Netherlands – they could be used for seminars and lectures.”
The protesters listen quietly as she speaks. “We’re not asking the impossible”, she cries. “We don’t want to go to the pub, we’re not moaning or looking for sympathy. We just want to go to school!”
The organizers had called on students not to travel to Amsterdam for the demonstration, because of to the stricter corona measures. Instead, each protester held a placard showing how many other students they were representing. Anybody interested in the demonstration could also follow it from home.
The chair of ASVA, Maarten van Dorp, is also there, representing students from Almere, Amersfoort, Alkmaar and Arnhem. “Today we’re here to demand more face-to-face education, but within the existing restrictions. We call on the government to release the extra funding that would enable face-to-face education to continue. Because now more than ever, this is important: students are lonely and spending days isolated in their rooms.”
Joep van Dijk is also at Museumplein, representing students in Rotterdam. “I think it’s so important that we maintain the quality of our education and that students are able to meet their classmates face to face.” He thinks the way that education is currently being provided is not working. “This is so bad for students’ mental health. Online teaching is leading to a lot of depression among students. We want students to be able to maintain their social network – while social distancing.”
Ayesha Noorain Rizwan, an international student from India and a committee member of VU Amsterdam’s University Student Council, is protesting on behalf of international students. “As an international student, I’ve paid so much money to come and study here but we haven’t been offered any alternative. The universities aren’t taking into account the fact that we’re being disadvantaged by this situation.”
Noorain Rizwan wants to see alternatives explored, especially for international students. “Most international students have gone back to their own country because they couldn’t see any point in staying here. The whole point of studying abroad is to experience something new. But we can’t do that because all the teaching is online.”
“One thing is for sure – they must have heard us in The Hague today”, Boahene says. “Not only the people who are here today, but also the many students and lecturers who weren’t able to come and support us in person.” According to the students, face-to-face education is a necessity – and an investment in students is an investment in the future.
Boahene is happy with how the demonstration went. “I hope the Dutch government will make funding available for educational institutions to provide more face-to-face education in a safe way.”
Van Dorp comments: “If we can attend classes in Paradiso in the second semester, we’ll be really happy.”