Towards re-starting education | Daily News


Towards re-starting education

Even as the adult generations cautiously step out into a pandemic-girded world determined to revive economic life, the question arises: what about the younger generations left behind at home?

The risky economic revival endeavours address the bread-and-butter or, rice-and-curry, issues. But the economic re-start will bear fruit only when the younger generations can also benefit. Not only must there be food for the stomach but, there must also be food for thought, if humanity’s continuity as an organised, thriving, society is to be assured.

Just as stagnant, inactive economies lose out in the global market and, go into disarray as the period of inactivity lengthens, the stifling of childhood life under lockdowns emasculates the future potentials of any society.

Whatever economic materialists may say, the human spirit is as important as the market. Humanity has materially progressed only when economic wealth has been matched by scientific innovation and scholarship. A nation’s intellectual wealth derives from its education of its younger generation that, then, enables the long term flourishing of intellectual exploration.

Our own civilisation of greater South Asia is replete with an ancient legacy of learning and intellectual exploration, whether in Taxila or Nalanda, Nagarjunakonda or Anuradhapura. Thus, our endeavours to revive the economy and, thereby protect our middle-income-country lifestyle must be followed up by an equally systematic post-pandemic revival of education.

Within weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, the United Nations agencies dealing with the world’s younger generations, namely UNICEF and UNESCO, were both responding to the global health emergency declared by their sister agency, WHO. UNESCO quickly developed criteria both for the emergency ‘lockdown’ of the world’s schooling systems as well as for the sustaining of child and youth education under pandemic conditions.

Today, with the whole of humanity yet under siege by COVID-19, the education authorities of all nations, supported by the expertise marshalled by UNESCO, are busy creating home-bound educational activity in conditions of permanent curfews. The UN agencies have been quick to point out the considerable differences and inequalities between socio-economic classes and their relative ability to sustain educational activity within the home while under lockdown.

The world’s more affluent social groups enjoy greater domestic physical space as well as technological and financial capacities to obtain remote educational services. Better education levels of the parents themselves enable home-grown teaching and learning activity that supplement professional remote teaching. In contrast, the world’s poor lack the physical space in their housing as well as the technological capabilities to enable their children sustain even a modicum of home-bound schooling.

According to UNESCO data, barely 60 per cent of the world’s schooling population of all ages have access to computers of any kind. Large swathes of countryside in many developing and low-income countries lack even electricity and telecommunications systems to enable such remotely conducted schooling programmes. The pandemic thus threatens to make the education divide even worse.

Sri Lanka, fortunately, has the benefit of islandwide electricity supply and telecommunications systems. At the same time, substantial cohorts of students have access to computers or, at least smart phone and tablet devices. Our middle-income-country status also means that most children are no longer diverted from studies by the need to support their elders in income-sustaining livelihoods, whether farming, cottage industry or trading.

As the pandemic crisis lengthened over the months, however, just as much economic revival pressures propel adult populations out of home and back to work, the question of delayed education also looms. On the one hand, idling children’s bodies and minds are soon deprived of sustained stimulation and exercise. On the other, idle young minds and restless bodies become ripe for excessive mischief and delinquency.

When whole school terms are lost in near-total inactivity, children and youth reach the stage of transition to adulthood minus the equivalent levels of education.

These are all reasons why the country’s education system must re-start sooner rather than later.

Both UNESCO and UNICEF, have already prepared detailed, standardized, matrices for the careful re-starting of education. These range from precise criteria for informing the gradual re-opening of schools, colleges and universities to the continuous operation of the schools and university systems under strict pandemic control regimes.

UNESCO has launched the Global Education Coalition to mobilise resources – both expertise and finance - to meet the needs for revival of education across the globe.

Meanwhile, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has already challenged the education authorities as well as the business sector to develop secondary and higher education capacities within the country to enable children obtain world class education here rather than having to go to school abroad.

Parents and children must now begin to prepare for a brave new era of schooling in a world beset by pandemic. Our success will surely demonstrate the triumph of the mind over matter – at least in relation to this pandemic.

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