By James Basle
CANBERRA — In one of the largest expressions of student anger in recent history, 2500 college students walked out of classes on October 27, in protest at education and teacher cuts. This represents about 40% of all college students in the ACT.
At least six of the nine colleges (years 11 and 12) and some high schools were part of the walkout. The day included mass meetings where students expressed their determination with slogans like "Cutting our education is like cutting our lives".
The day culminated in a rally at Glebe Park and a march to the ACT Legislative Assembly.
The September ACT of the Follett Labor government proposed a 2% decrease in schools spending this year, cutting 80 teacher positions.
This $4.3 million cut will mean increased class sizes and reduced subject choices. The government plans to slash a further 2% off the education budget every year for three years.
At Narrabundah College, Kamini Junankar, Resistance activist and member of Secondary Students Against the Cuts (SSAC), reports that about 800 students from a school population of about 900 participated in the walkout, organised by Students Action Against Cuts to Education (a Narrabundah based group) and by SSAC.
Four hundred students attended a rally at a nearby oval and heard a number of speakers, including students, the Liberal opposition education spokesperson, Greg Cornwell, and independent member Michael Moore.
Cornwell said that the Liberals would amend the budget to preserve teacher numbers. But some students found this opportunist and hypocritical, as it seems the Liberals would still cut funding to education and almost definitely close a number of schools.
Moore spoke of his support for education and teachers, but said that he would not block the budget bills in order to defend public education.
At Dickson College, Bronwen Brook reports, 150 students, about one in four, participated in the walkout. Another source told Green Left Weekly that the principal threatened students who participated with having an unexplained absence marked against their name.
At Lake Ginninderra College, 700 students left classes, according to Amrita Mahli. The previous day 400 students at a year 12 meeting supported the Student Representative Council's recommendation to organise a walkout.
At Stirling College, Stephen Jones reports, 600 students walked out. This was achieved purely on the basis of hearing that other colleges were doing so.
According to a source at Lyneham High, about 300 students wanted to leave classes. Police were called in to stop the walkout, and a delegation was then allowed to attend a later rally. High school students in the ACT are "legally" not allowed to participate in political activities.
SSAC is a secondary student group initiated by Resistance to fight the cuts and for student interests. SSAC is organised on both a local and cross-school basis. Any student interested in joining SSAC and establishing a group at their school can contact Kamini Junankar on 247 2424.
According to Junankar, this is just the beginning of the student fight back. "The walkout showed the huge potential for students to fight the attacks on our education, and we will definitely be intensifying the campaign.
"Both Labor And Liberal will cut our education, attack our living standards and do nothing about a 32% youth unemployment rate. They will sacrifice our generation for corporate profits. We have to build an alternative, of mass action, activism and community support."