Here’s why we need to support student strikes

On Nov. 14, students from the Ateneo de Manila University filed a petition to call for a mass student strike against government’s criminal neglect in the face of recent typhoons Ulysses, Rolly and Quinta as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The petition signed by more than 500 students demanded that the Ateneo community concentrate all efforts into helping the most vulnerable citizens of the country. The students said business can no longer continue as usual, and that they cannot simply prioritize their schoolwork when there are people suffering unnecessarily due to the government’s poor response to calamities. 

The strike was initiated in solidarity with the people, and expressed the belief that in any undertaking, no student should be left behind. The students pledged that they will withhold submission of school requirements starting Nov. 18. 

Ateneo’s Sanggunian (the student council) held two emergency meetings to consolidate the demands of the students, which prompted the university to give them a one-week academic break.  

This bold move from Ateneo’s students immediately prompted other universities to follow suit and initiate their own strikes in the hope that these would lead to bigger movements that would demand state accountability for its negligence and incompetence. 

However, some professors and alumni presented a different take on the move, expressing concerns that the students’ strike may not be the best solution to demand accountability from President Duterte. Since he doesn’t care about education, the strike won’t bother him at all, others pointed out. Others said that disruptions like this is exactly what the enemy wants, so why give it to them? 

But how exactly should students express their concern? As a sector, the mass strike may be the most effective action that students can collectively join. 

If the concern of some professors is that the non-submission of academic requirements or non-attendance in class would mean a lack of education, then perhaps it’s time to redefine what “education” really means. Can education be taken only in a formal setting, as in inside the classroom with a professor or lecturer taking charge? Can education only be measured by requirements that instructors equate with a grade or rating after submission? 

Maybe instead of focusing on how the strike disturbs the established education structure, we can look at the strike as an opportunity to highlight alternative learning environments, which do not exactly subscribe to the conventional systems of learning but could still mold students to be good citizens who are critical and outspoken.

This isn’t to disregard the role of the academe and the importance of educators in nation-building. But let’s also emphasize that the modules students use in their classes can only be enriched by their interactions with the different sectors that comprise society. 

Students can organize relief operations, they can write stories to amplify the voices of victims, they can even shoot informational TikToks about issues like red-tagging. Such active political activities can enable them to make grounded decisions as they participate in nation building. 

Students need their teachers, professors and elders’ support now more than ever. Instead of immediately taking a defeatist stance and suggesting that the strike would only be ignored by the state, why not declare their full support to the youth? 

And if the concern is how “disruptive” the method is, isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want to disturb government officials from their stupid antics? Wasn’t this method proven effective when Harry Roque and even President Duterte responded to the students’ petition? 

Students are the major stakeholders of educational institutions. This strike reminds students of what they can do collectively, and that beyond submitting school requirements, they are also empowered to lead movements that can impact the nation. 

We’ve always acknowledged the importance of the youth in political work. We always say that the youth is the hope of the future. We’ve all tweeted, “sana all” to the student led-protests in Hong Kong and Thailand. Now’s the time for the Filipino youth to leave their own mark. 

Let the youth decide how they want to express their dismay. Trust them on how they want to engage with the government. After all, this is their own future that they are changing. 

 

Art by Dana Calvo

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