Covid-19: Education's moment of enlightenment
Here is a question: You have two options presented to you right now; live or learn. Which one do you choose?
However, in many education circles across South Africa recently, debates raged about how best to respond to the disruption of teaching and learning due to the government enforced 'hard' lockdown. Discussions revolved around online teaching and learning challenges such as; choosing the most effective digital platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Team, if websites could be zero-rated for data, how to access data, access to digital technology and whether there will be sufficient academic calendar days to complete the curriculum. All the noise about making the right decisions within the matter of a few weeks was causing major anxiety and possibly resulting in irrational decisions.
Covid-19 revealed the vast socioeconomic inequalities in our society, yet, in many sectors, there was a pretence that life could proceed as usual. So while many were debating technology, many learners in previously marginalised communities were concerned about where they would get their next meal.
When we immerse ourselves in the changing world, and the unique generative moment that Covid-19 presents, critical reflection on our curricula and epistemology will render many of the current education debates futile. With so much disruption and fragility around us, now is an ideal time to reflect on the meaning and purpose of life, and accordingly, adapt education for an emerging world, rather than pursuing a tick box exercise of completing curricula stuck in the 'old world'! In this generative space that we are in during lockdown, the more critical approach is not to focus on 'To do', but on 'To be'.
The rush towards online learning is not improving learning efficiency, but exposing more of the faultlines in our society such as the significant socioeconomic divide and an education system that is far too utilitarian and not aligned with imminent social and economic changes. An alternative approach is to step back from trying to be 'productive' and to ponder the situation we are in meaningfully. Economist and author, W. Brian Arthur, once wrote, 'All great discoveries come from a deep inner journey.' It is a similar inner journey that spawned timeless spiritual doctrines and significant scientific discoveries throughout human history. Perhaps now is an ideal time for learners to quieten the chatter, filter the noise, tap into latent intuitive wisdom and nurture self-awareness and how to best live in a world of uncertainty.
What threatens our survival on this planet are not natural disasters, but mindless and ego-driven human actions. These include the impact of rampant industrialisation and excessive consumption demands without concerns for the impact on the planet. Social consciousness, transforming behavioural patterns of aggression and arrogance into compassion and empathy, and developing more environment-friendly modes of economic activities are ways in which we should be future-proofing our young generation.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 arrived with such devastation, resulting in lockdowns of megacities, thousands of people dying and disruption of global economic and social systems. However, for those willing to observe and listen during the lockdown, there have also been many benefits. Quiet has returned to many bustling streets. In megacities, smog has lifted and for the first time in years and people can breathe clean air. Families have bonded, and nature seems to have been rejuvenated.
Survival during Covid-19 lockdown and efforts to 'flatten the curve' requires humanity to collaborate, empathise, explore new synergies and be resilient. When we interrogate educational models of the 20th and 21st centuries, we realise they were dominated by scientific and technical rationality. These were motivated to meet economic imperatives and driven by powerful market forces. This resulted in the commodification of knowledge that is utilitarian, objectified and packaged to meet economic needs. Therefore educating for a new reality requires educators to facilitate new skills which align more strongly with the changing needs in our society. Undoubtedly, navigating uncharted territory will be messy and bring with it much uncertainty and anxiety, yet, the world of emergence, complexity and uncertainty require new ways of thinking, new ways of doing and new ways of being.
Making education meaningful requires that it aligns to the contexts of our learners. Therefore, with so much need for learning devices, data and functional learning spaces, curricula need to be tempered accordingly to lower the cost burden. All the academic disciplines can be taught and learnt through engaging the senses - observing; listening; thinking. The world is a 'living classroom' alive with science; math; economics; language. Applying experiential and action learning methodologies supported by educators who pose probing questions via online platforms or social media will enable effective theory-making and learning.
It is also important to promote critical thinking. In Future Shock (1970) Alvin Toffler predicted the following, 'The technology of tomorrow requires not millions of lightly lettered (wo)men, ready to work in unison at endlessly repetitious jobs, it requires not (wo)men who take orders in unblinking fashion, but (wo)men who can make critical judgments, who can weave their way through novel environments, who are quick to spot new relationships in the rapidly changing reality'. There is no doubt that Toffler's reality has arrived. It came stealthily, speedily and with significant impact through Covid-19.
Facing the challenges of Covid-19 during lockdown and post-lockdown is scary, but there is hope! Some of the defining characteristics of humans are adaptability, intelligence, resilience and innovation. It is through these qualities that we have overcome many global threats in the past - Spanish flu; world wars; natural disasters. However, we will only thrive if we can learn, reflect and adapt to the new normal.
The 'hard' lockdown provided us with a golden opportunity to transform and develop our consciousness and to once again find our integral connection with society and the holon of life.
About the author
Rudi Kimmie (PhD) is Chief Executive Officer at TSIBA Business School. He writes in his personal capacity.