Worlds of Education

Photo: Jose Fontano/Unsplash
Photo: Jose Fontano/Unsplash

“Coronavirus: Our principles, values, and shared humanity”, by Susan Hopgood.

published 3 April 2020 updated 3 April 2020
written by:

Combat of the Coronavirus has graduated in many countries to closing of schools and most public gatherings and some businesses. EI has mostly focused on the impact on education and teachers and Education Support Personnel (ESP) and have been providing reports regularly from countries and regions and on what is happening at the international level.

However, there are other reflections that go beyond our sectors, but that are prompted by the pandemic and concern for both the present and the future:

1- Pandemics must be dealt with globally. Isolation of persons may, for specific exposure risk reasons, be necessary, but not isolation of countries or peoples.

2- It is not possible for any country to tackle this crisis alone. If parts of our societies are ignored or disregarded, we will also not meet this global challenge.

3- Although panic may lead to selfishness, the nature of the virus means that one cannot protect oneself without protecting others. That means that the defence of anyone depends on the protection of everyone. Special attention needs to be paid to excluded groups, whether it is migrants, women, persons from lower castes or others as their often-crowded conditions and access problems to medical care make them, and, therefore, everybody vulnerable.

4- Governments must take responsibility for public health and for supplying support for workers and others in need. That will be constructive and will build cohesion and trust. But, trying to place blame on others is a distraction, is self-destructive, and may incite discrimination and attacks.

5- Short-termism, a rampant malady of the modern world, makes it difficult to take into consideration the general interest. Success in dealing with the pandemic will depend, in large measure, in our ability to put plans in place and have solid, dependable health care systems and other public services. In other words, our future requires abandoning short-termism, whether it is economic, social, or environmental.

6- Real dangers to society are posed by allowing support for and training of critical professionals to deteriorate, in this case in the medical profession, researchers and the capacities of public health professionals. However, in a broader sense trained, high quality professionals and highly skilled workers in all areas is part of the vital infrastructure that provides the security for society and a foundation for development.

7- People have discovered that health does not have a price. That should not be forgotten when the pandemic is over. Public services are not an add-on. They are fundamental to our daily lives and our social, economic, environmental, and cultural futures.

The economic impact of the Coronavirus will have a long-lasting impact in many countries most likely on the scale of the Great Recession of 2009 (following the financial crisis), however, the remedies should not be the same. Although banks and other major enterprises will be affected, they are in less danger of collapse. Central banks are taking necessary measures to keep interest rates low and to guard against dangers to the system.

Poor people and workers as well as small businesses like cafes and restaurants and others that have had their existence threatened by the crisis will need help. However, resources should not be diverted to those that do not need them and have suffered the least.

Under no circumstances, should governments follow the dangerous path of austerity as they did in most countries in response to the financial crisis. Some of the countries that suffered the most from austerity are having the most difficulty dealing with the pandemic. Instead, there should be a priority on increasing funding and quality of vital public services.

Although people are, understandably concerned, all indications are that the pandemic will end. What is vital is that we learn the lessons from our experience with COVID-19 so that we do not repeat the same mistakes or go back to business as usual.

As Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, put it:

“Beyond these very immediate challenges, the path of the coronavirus will also undoubtedly test our principles, values and shared humanity.”

All crises are, at the same time problems and opportunities. Realism, common sense, a sense of urgency, mobilisation, and solidarity, can and will lead to progress, to righting old wrongs, to greater social justice, to listening, to understanding and to social peace.

On the other hand, panic and fear often have exactly the opposite effect. People are excluded rather than included, they are stigmatised based on fake news, and, with sophisticated and targeted hate and disinformation, society can easily come tumbling down.

We have seen in this crisis that decency, compassion, and solidarity, for now, seem to have the upper hand. Our mission as educators, not only in the classroom, but in the community is to build on this good will, this community spirit, to help shape the world and the societies that we all seek.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.