Some high school students boycott remote learning to call for reopening

Ljubljana/Velenje – A number of secondary school students boycotted remote learning on Tuesday to express support for a movement that seeks face-to-face teaching at secondary schools. Opinions about this among students are still divided, though, a representative of the relevant organisation said.

The initiative to boycott remote learning in secondary schools has been launched by the movement We Want School, which had wanted to meet representatives of the Education Ministry over this by 8 February.

The ministry scheduled the meeting for today, but the movement nevertheless proceeded with the planned boycott.

A few departments in the Ptuj secondary school opted for the boycott, head teacher Boštjan Šeruga told the STA. He assessed that the absence of students had been noticeable, estimating that a third of students joined the boycott.

Some students of the Bežigrad secondary school in Ljubljana also opted to boycott remote learning. Head teacher Ciril Dominko could not tell how many had skipped class, adding that the information would be available on Wednesday.

A protest was meanwhile held in the town of Velenje by a local youth organisation in which the government was called to open secondary schools for in-person learning.

An activist read a letter in which the organisation expresses disagreement with remote learning as it represents a “system in which the economy, interests of capital and political games are preferred to education”.

According to Maja Kalin, the head of the DOS organisation of secondary school students, schools have responded differently to the boycott, and in some of them student communities decided themselves not to join it.

She added that opinions were divided among students; some who otherwise agree that they should return to school in person, they do not necessarily agree with the way the protest has taken place.

“A little less than half of all students wants to go back to school, while 45% do not want to return,” Kalin told the STA.

It is also happening that some students are skipping only certain classes that they do not deem important for their exit exams.

The Education Ministry said that Minister Simona Kustec would speak in the afternoon with representatives of secondary schools and dormitories along with a representative of the National Institute of Public Health in what has been labelled a working meeting.

Kalin said that the meeting was about getting information on how the return to secondary schools would be organised, including dormitories and public transportation.

She said after the meeting that all sides had agreed that secondary schools should be reopened safely as soon as possible.

The government will be deciding on this at Wednesday’s session and it is possible that some students return to school already next week, she added.

It was also noted that the autonomy of secondary schools when it comes to reopening would be very broad, which meant that they would decide based on their individual capabilities how the return and learning would be organised, Kalin also said.

Representatives of parents of primary school children from the Maribor area also called today for a ten-minute suspension of remote learning in primary schools to call for “more appropriate organisation of school for all students”.

Head teachers and teachers from 28 schools from the area supported the call, but it is not known yet how many students actually joined the initiative.

Later in the day, some 50 people gathered in one of the squares in Maribor and marched through the streets. The police said it was a peaceful protest but some of the protestors carrying banners were IDed.

Two opposition parties support the secondary schools students who opted for the boycott, with the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) saying that after more than 100 days of remote schooling, there was absolutely no reason for students not to return to classrooms.

The party believes the government has completely failed when it comes to education during the epidemic, with schools being the first institutions to be closed and the last to be opened.

The Left said that Slovenia was one of the countries with the longest school lockdown and “one of few countries which has not yet realised the coronavirus cannot be defeated with repression”.

Ada Lana Derviševič of the We Want School initiative told the STA that they did not have the data on how many students had joined the boycott. According to the broadcaster Planet TV, between 15,000 and 20,000 students participated.