By Jenn Watt
Once again, the youth in Haliburton County is leading conversation in our community.
Following weeks of climate change protests at the municipal building in Haliburton led by teenager Jürgen Shantz, young people are now raising issue with announced reductions in funding for education.
On Thursday, a large group of high school students rallied in front of Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, walking out of class as did thousands of students at other schools across the province to ensure substantial changes to their education don’t fly under the radar.
In Ontario, more than 3,400 teaching positions will be lost over four years as teachers retire or move on to other jobs, which will save $851 million. Class sizes will necessarily increase to compensate; students are also being mandated to take one online class per year in high school. Changes to funding for students with autism could further stretch school staff.
The students have paid attention to what the government is doing and they’re worried – not only about how they will fare with less money to go around, but how their fellow students, teachers and educational assistants will cope.
Although the premier of the province suggested that the students who walked out of class on Friday were pawns of the unions, there were no teachers to be seen at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School when our reporter attended to cover the demonstration.
Students have insisted that the protest was their response to government plans.
Following Thursday’s protest, one Facebook commenter alleged that the teachers’ union, not the students, organized the demonstration.
A local high school student replied: “we the students organized this peaceful protest by ourselves. We believe in our future and the kids that will be the future that need the funding for proper education. If OSAP [Ontario Student Assistance Program] gets cut, I do not go to university. If EA funding gets cut, many of my younger friends will not have support to be successful in school. So please, put yourself in our shoes before you accuse our beloved teachers, know that we organized the protest not them.”
Instead of dismissing these students, we should be taking note of the issues they deem important. They’ve done their research and they’ve put in the work.
This is the next generation – the people who will soon be responsible for creating policy on the environment, economy and education. They are only a few years from voting and only a decade or two from running the whole place. Plus, as they’ve shown us this past month, they’re smart, passionate and willing to step up.
They deserve our attention and respect.