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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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Westlane students protest against education changes
Some of the Westlane Secondary School students protesting against Ontario's education changes. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

"Education is not a political playground," says Amal Qayum, a Westlane Secondary Scool student, at the province-wide walkout Thursday afternoon.

Thousands of students across Ontario walked out from their classes to protest new changes to the education system made by the provincial government.

Some of these changes include implementing a “back-to-basics” math curriculum, banning cellphones in classrooms, making every high school student take one mandatory online course each year, and increasing average classes by one student in Grade 4 to 8, and to 28 students from 22 in high schools.

Teachers will also have to take a math test as a requirement to be certified by the Ontario College of Teachers.

Over 100 Westlane Secondary School students joined other students across the Niagara Region and the province in the walkout expressing their concerns over education cuts.

Westlane’s student body president and Grade 12 student, Victoria Barnes, said with online courses, students have to teach themselves and e-learning isn’t suited for everyone. Some students also require personal interaction with a teacher which they won’t get in bigger classes.

“If you have a class that has 30 or so kids in it, you’re not going to be able to have one-on-one time with every student,” she said. “Teachers can’t give attention to your education as well as 29 other students in your class and still have time to do that.”

Daniel Krowchuk, also a Grade 12 student and a co-president of the student council, said some of these changes weren’t equitable for all types of students as there are students who may not have access to electronics and everyone also has a different learning style.

“E-learning doesn’t accommodate tactile or auditory learning,” he said. “It only accommodates visual learning because you’re reading off of the online and you’re doing your assignments online. It takes away a third of learning styles of students. How does it even make sense?”

As for class sizes, Krowchuk said some teachers struggle to keep everything in line so adding more students to classes would add “more of a chaos aspect to it.”

Grade 12 student Amal Qayum, who is also a president of Ontario’s Student Trustee Association, said after the protest with thousands of students walking out across Ontario, politicians are now aware the students aren’t happy with the cuts.

“Education is not a political playground. It’s for the betterment of the society,” she told The Lake Report. “I really look forward to what politicians do at Queen’s Park after this.”

On Thursday, Education Minister Lisa Thompson said it was a “disappointing day for Ontario’s parents and students” and advised all school boards to “take action to discipline anyone who abandons their classroom responsibilities.”

Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates said he left Toronto to stop by Stamford Collegiate and Westlane Secondary School to support teens for taking a stand.

“I’m here, quite frankly, to say to the students, ‘I hear you, I listen to you,’” he told The Lake Report. “The students are sending a clear message to politicians, to adults that they get it. They understand the importance of having a good education…And, quite frankly, education is a basic human right and they deserve it.”

Niagara’s city councillor, Carolynn Ioannoni, was at the walkout, too. She said the cuts will affect not only current students but the future generation of students as well.

“This is our future. This who has the power of the vote next time,” she said. “This is who is going to decide what happens so I’m so proud of all of them that they made themselves aware of the issue, they made themselves aware of the cuts.”

Brett Sweeney, communications officer of the District School Board of Niagara, commented on the walkout prior to the event.

“The DSBN supports students’ right to make their voices heard,” Sweeney said in an email response to The Lake Report. “However, we encourage students choosing to participate in this initiative to do so respectfully and safely. Students will be responsible for completing any work missing due to the walkout."

On Saturday, thousands of teachers, students, parents and union representatives continued to rally for education at Queen's Park.