OPINION: COVID-19, strike squeezes 2020 grads

Mar 25, 2020 | News

Galvin Zaldivar, Senior Reporter

Several of my classmates have noted, with irony, that our cohort of journalism students, along with many other three-year programs, began and ended with long-term disruptions.

First it was the 2017 strike of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents full-time and part-time college instructors province-wide. And now three years later as we approach graduation, we must deal with the ongoing COVID-19, or coronavirus pandemic.

We lost five weeks of instruction for the duration of the strike, and had to make up the lost time during the winter break, the first few weeks in January and at the cost of the 2018 reading week. Even then, students who had plans on the regular academic calendar had to negotiate the changes as best they could, often with financial penalties and expenses.

For the five months after the strike occurred, students could look for work, pick up extra shifts, or otherwise go about their daily business, even as they assessed whether or not it was feasible for them to continue in their chosen programs. Every effort was made, both by our instructors and institutions, to make the altered timetable as accommodating as possible.

With COVID-19, the academic disruptions are not as drastic, thanks to the efforts of our instructors and program coordinators, who have all committed to continuing their instruction through this period of self-isolation. Some of us do still have to complete internship and placements or classes that use specialized equipment or programs, but journalism is more adaptable to remote communication than most, as I’m sure any newsroom across the country can attest to that.

But the disruptions to daily life are not confined to just to students.

On top of the health concerns students are facing financial pressures as all non-essential businesses close encouraging people to stay at home to flatten the curve as Ontario continues under a state of emergency.

Already, hundreds of students have been laid off, many without a guarantee they can return to work once the crisis has passed. This is worrisome because even now renters have to worry about possible eviction and further inability to make ends meet from the loss of income. This poses a great problem for many international students. And on top of all this there’s the underlining fear that some may be unable to complete their program even with the benefit of remote learning.  

The worst of the disruptions however, will continue after classes cease on April 17.

As the virus continues to spread, with the numbers of the infected and dead rising each day, every member of the class of 2020 faces uncertainty in the work place.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has admitted he doesn’t know how long these measures of social distancing will last, and the promised $82 billion in financial aid is still a long way away.

It is very likely that social distancing would still be required for several more months. Wuhan, where the outbreak began, went into quarantine at the end of January and this is expected to finally end in two weeks’ time.

Everything is up in the air right now. It is unknown what shape the economy will be in by the time this ends, and what opportunities will be available to graduates when they leave.

The Canadian Federation of Students has asked provincial governments to follow the federal government’s lead and defer student loan repayments.

They have also advocated student residences remain or be opened to those, such as international students, who have no other accommodation available to them. It is even asking all courses be made pass/fail, to extend appeals for grades and tuition fees and even to forgive any remaining placement and internship hours.

With all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic as the world adapts to combating COVID-19, they are clearly worried that many students may fall through the cracks.