What is called for in a world after Covid-19 is a new educational purpose – one that reconnects thinking around environmental wellbeing, social health and economic fairness
The isolation of Covid-19 lockdowns around the world has allowed time and stillness to re-evaluate old habits and ways of thought. A time to take stock on life as we await new waves. There have been many voices calling for change, for the world to be reset – we cannot go back to how things were. Does education need a reset?
Education is a valued good, but do we agree on what its purpose is in a (post) Covid-19 world?
We are told that if we send our children to school it will help them get a worthwhile job and have a stable and affluent life; that it will help their self-advancement, help them ‘get ahead’. The myth of education as a commodity to be accumulated is widely accepted.
Thinking that education is solely for self-advancement and ‘getting ahead’ ignores the opportunities we have to learn from the experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the gloss has worn off and many nations are moving into a global depression. Some are using the Covid-19 virus as an opportunity to accelerate our use of machines and artificial intelligence in the workforce. Machines don’t get sick or need to socially distance.
What can education offer beyond self-advancement?
In Covid-19 lockdowns, we experience the educational paradoxes of disconnection.
As we shelter in our homes, confined to our bubbles, we experience the disconnection of social distancing – avoiding each other as we pass on the pavement, standing apart in the queue to enter the supermarket, not spending time with close friends and family. We are increasingly connected by digital technologies, but isolated in other, important ways.
Yet at the same time, many people speak about a simultaneous educationally rich reconnection. They reconnect to their silent urban settings, to their garden, to the reserve down the road, to the pleasures of cooking; by listening to the now-audible birdsong, seeing distant mountains usually hidden by pollution, the senses become enlivened. As life slows down, it simultaneously shrinks and opens up and we learn as we experience reconnections.
What are the implications for education of these experiences of disconnection–reconnection on a macro scale?
The first area is social. Covid-19 affects all sectors of society but its effects are felt much more keenly by the poor, by minorities, the precariat and socially deprived. We re-learn about the importance of the local. Inequality has become even more pronounced yet we see around the world a wish to help others, to call out and in places to strike out against inequality and discrimination, exemplified by the Black Lives Matter protests around the world. We also see that when people work together (in a socially distanced way), the virus is contained more successfully.
The second area is economic. Traditionally, we concentrate on the personal; we now find ourselves part of a worldwide phenomenon. Our connection to global economic movements is suddenly more apparent. We have seen millions of people lose their livelihoods in a week, yet we have learned that previously unthinkable legislation to support those in need can be passed easily.
The third area is a reconnection with our environment. We have learnt that the encroachment by people on natural environments causes stresses that lead to the increasingly frequent transmission of zoonotic viruses. At least six viruses have transferred to humans since 2000; more are likely on the way. Interestingly, we have seen that the environment appears to bounce back quickly once the constant impact of human behaviour is removed.
The growing inequality within societies speaks to a disconnection from our fellow citizens; the economic system, focused on short-term gain, is disconnected from its impacts on people and on the environment; and human misuse of the natural environment leads to a fundamental and dangerous disconnection with the symbiotic relationship between humanity and nature.
What is called for in a world after Covid-19 is a new educational purpose – one that reconnects thinking around environmental wellbeing, social health and economic fairness, one that is united by the need for sustainability.
What we have taken for granted has been turned on its head in a moment. We need to question what kind of world we want our children and grandchildren to live in. Thinking that education is solely for self-advancement and ‘getting ahead’ ignores the opportunities we have to learn from the experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We cannot afford to fall back into old ways of living and thinking. The act of disruption has taken place. From disconnection, we have to learn how to reconnect.