Peerzada Umar & Shabeer Rather
Shiv Shankar Menon, Indian diplomat and former National Security Adviser, has said of the post Covid-19 situation: “We are headed for a poorer, meaner, and smaller world.” The world no doubt is being pushed back by this unprecedented pandemic, but the question is, what is the way to a better future? The only thing that will help secure a better future is education. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” At the moment education is in doldrums. The gates of schools and college are locked. The problems that students face are of three dimensions:
The first is psychological. Students are traumatised by the situation of lockdown after lockdown. They also fear for their lives and of their loved ones from the coronavirus. There is yet another element to it: domestic abuse and violence. Gender-based violence, described by the UN as a “shadow pandemic”, has significantly increased during the lockdown. Brown, Brett V and Sharon Bzostek report in their collaborative work, “Violence in the lives of children”, that children who are exposed to violence at home may have difficulty in learning and limited social skills. They may also exhibit violent, risky or delinquent behaviour, or suffer from depression or severe anxiety.
The second is sociological. Students, especially teenagers, can’t stay focused unless they are connected to their peer group. They excel and are motivated when they are connected to a larger group. The lockdown and frequent snapping of communication has made them lonelier and less motivated.
The third is methodological. Technology is being seen as a solution to the current shutdown of academic institutions. Certain private and government schools have already gone online. But there are problems. As per the India Internet 2019 report, there is only 36% IPR (internet penetration rate) in India. The IPR is determined by the number of individuals aged above 12 years per 100 population who accessed the internet in the last month. Also, the gender divide is significant with respect to internet access. Only about 30% of women in India have access to internet. Then there is the disparity among states, e.g., Delhi NCR has IPR of 69%, followed by Kerala at 54%, but states likes Odisha (25%), Jharkhand (26%) and Bihar (28%) are at the bottom.
Keeping such problems in view, a pragmatic strategy can be drawn. Students should firstly be encouraged to not get bogged down in apprehensions or anxiety but instead look forward to the future. There is no ignoring the fact that the resources are limited as of now, but those who excel are the ones who make the most of the resources available. In 1665, the University of Cambridge was temporarily closed due to the Bubonic plague. Isaac Newton had to work from home, and he used this time to develop the calculus and the theory of gravity. Abraham Lincoln, the most admired president of America, for the most part was self-educated. Most historians say he had formal schooling not for more than a year. APJ Abdul Kalam, the 11th president of India, was from a poor background. He sold newspapers during his school days to supplement the family income. He was an average student, but had strong desire to learn, to achieve something big.
We cannot deny that it is an uphill struggle to learn or study when the atmosphere is filled with fear, depression and anxiety. The facts and daily figures of the pandemic have created a sense of further desperation and hopelessness. The coronavirus is not only hitting our mental well-being but our economy as well. It will transform our lives in many ways. We will be more dependent on technology. Our way of schooling may change, at least for a few years.
But this Covid-19 pandemic, too, shall pass. Therefore, let’s not waste time and make education our top priority. This is not an option but an imperative. We have to use this lockdown to rebuild and prepare ourselves for the future. Read whatever material is at your disposal. The spirit to compete shouldn’t sag. Spend time positively and productively. Motivate yourself, for fear is just a distraction. Even with limited options, the great personalities of the world made use of the aspiration to achieve something big and made best use of whatever was available to them.
The writers are motivational speakers and columnists