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Sask. students blast Cockrill over provincial education dispute

Students from North Battleford are asking the minister to act like a hero rather than a coward, as the impasse between teachers and the government continue.

THE BATTLEFORDS — North Battleford students gathered on the corner of MLA Jeremy Cockrill’s office in North Battleford on March 27, to the sound of honking horns and chanting. Together, dozens of students waved signs in protest days before Easter break to stand up for teachers in their ongoing battle for funding with the Government of Saskatchewan.

Ruhan Yi, an International Baccalaureate student with the North Battleford Comprehensive High School (NBCHS), told the News-Optimist that the protest served as an opportunity for students to show their support for the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF.)

“Our voice really matters, and we will continue to fight and continue to speak … until this problem gets involved," Yi said.

“Education is our future, and we will continue to fight.”

A main issue for students, he said, is that the provincial government remains unwilling to co-operate with the teacher’s union. He feels that has to change.

“They need to actively engage with the teachers and listen to their advice,” he said, adding that another concern for students were unmanageable class sizes he’s witnessed firsthand in his school.

“We want some improvement. We want some development … and that’s what we’re here for.”

Muhammad Areeb, another student from NBCHS, noted that there are anywhere from 40 to 30 kids in classrooms at his school, which he said is not ideal at all. He's worried  that students won’t receive enough individual attention from teachers, especially students that are struggling or falling behind.

“The teacher is unable to allocate time … because it’s difficult to manage 40 students at a time or 30 students at a time. It should be at least halved. The class sizes are way to big … and it’s kind of unfair for the students,” he added.

When asked for their thoughts on the recent budget announcements from the provincial government regarding increased funding for classrooms, outside of the scope of a bargaining agreement, Yi added, “We don’t really see that money.”

“Putting it in a contract would mean they would consider [funding] in the longer term. Because I think the provincial government is just trying to get this over with,” he said.

“I think [funding in a bargaining agreement] that’s a way of security for the teachers because if it’s in the contract [the government] can’t back down from it. And I don’t think it’s only about the money, its more so to do with the class sizes,” Areeb said.

Minister Cockrill told media late last week that he was having conversations with Samantha Becotte, president of the STF with both groups seemingly optimistic, according to reporting from 

Despite this, STF continues their job action across the province while disapproval of both teaches and the government continues to grow.

When asked what he’d say to Minister Cockrill if he’d been present at the protest, Areeb said he’d ask Cockrill to, “Get this done because you’re ignoring the situation. This isn’t going to solve itself.

“You have to be able to co-operate with the teachers and actually think about the students and not yourself in this case.”

Yi noted that Minister Cockrill, being in a powerful situation as the Minister of Education has the power to change this if he wanted.

“We say, ‘great power comes with great responsibility,’ so please do that like a hero, not like a coward, and resolve this issue as soon as possible,” Yi said, asking Cockrill to think about the future of students of Saskatchewan.

With files from Averil Hall.