Ideology, pedagogy and the new normal: COVID-19 and the future of education

By FrontierManipur | Published On 10th Aug, 2021, 04:09 GMT+0530

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The tryst with the new normal and a pedagogy ignited by the ongoing pandemic seems to be far from being clear and succinct. What we have seen is the normalisation of the so called online classes, teachings, examinations, results, interviews, admissions and other activities related to education.

By Dhiren A Sadokpam

Way back on September 18, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) had issued certain recommendations related to ‘actions and requirements’ to be put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools and educational institutions. This was done to ensure the safety of children and school staff. The recommended actions were related to special provisions for early childhood development, higher learning institutions, and residential schools or specialized institutions.

At the community level, the WHO instructed that early detection, testing, contact tracing, and quarantine of contacts should be carried out. The world health body also insisted on investigating clusters besides ensuring physical distancing, hand and hygiene practices, and age-appropriate mask use.

The WHO wanted countries to ensure necessary resources, policies, and infrastructure so as to protect the health and safety of students. The rest of the advisory includes behavioral aspects, hygiene, and daily practices in the school and classrooms pointing out that it was absolutely necessary to maintain physical distancing, hand hygiene, age-appropriate mask use, ventilation, and environmental cleaning measures to limit exposure to coronavirus.

The rest of the recommendation was further detailing of the main points mentioned above. However, these recommendations did not provide a hint on adopting a new method of imparting education. With the advent of the second wave, lockdowns and curfews continued to hamper the daily activities of all students. Educational establishments remained shut while office-going parents have been asked to work from home.

Here, it is worth noting that the WHO recommendations on dealing with school children and the future of their education system is based on an apparently a neutral political position.  Talking about children and education have now become even more difficult. While pedagogy can be simply defined as the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept, it is indeed difficult to state that pedagogical issues can be discussed in an ideological or political vacuum even during pandemic times.

By the time the WHO recommendations were adopted or ignored by schools around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic saw the advent of the dreaded second wave in India with the looming possibility of a serious third wave. With many more lives lost and an increasing number of COVID-19 cases around the world, all perspectives on the social order began to change drastically.

The impact of the pandemic was so humongous that a term/idiom “the new normal” coined by Roger McNamee, a technology investor, albeit in a different context, had been invoked and the same is being circulated not only to describe the world living with COVID-19 but also to explain the social disruptions and abnormalities induced by the worldwide pandemic.

The tryst with the new normal and a pedagogy ignited by ongoing pandemic seems to be far from being clear and succinct. What we have seen is the normalisation of the so-called online classes, teachings, examinations, results, interviews, admissions, and other activities related to education. This method revolves around the same conventional system of education. We are still followin the conventional education system and the values associated with it.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has pushed the debates on ‘what form of education would best suit our children’. And we keep asking how our children will be able to embrace the changing realities of the times and the eventual overhauling of the entire educational system. With or without the pandemic, there are also many experts who have argued that the shift from the conventional method of education should be focused on “learning how to learn” besides facilitating the attainment of potentialities or the hidden abilities of all learners, especially the children. This basically entails the acquisition of skills and new educational values by the future generation.

Those of us who grew up with ideological intakes while trying to understand the conventional education system, the world has definitely changed now. We did explicitly critiqued and even fought the system, by not only arguing that the system is being perpetuated to internalize the constant fear of freedom. We indulged in polemics and overtly argued that the venerated top jobs the students were lured into – like the civil services were meant not only to serve the masters but also to falsely normalize the idea of a successful student or a student achiever. There was a spatial contingency for distancing oneself from the magical academic achievements so as to climb the ladder of success.

The COVID-19 pandemic now may not give any more room to students to think and act like the flower child of the 1970s or the rebellious streak of the 1980s and 1990s. The so-called new normal will now induce children and students to act and think less about the oppressive mode of education and their assembly products churned out by the pre-pandemic education system. This however is not going to be the end of the debate. It has already been argued and demonstrated that the COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the deep class contradictions in our society, between the haves and the have-nots.

Amidst the palpable confusion on what our children will be in the post-pandemic phase of history, there are many pragmatists and idealists who are literally dreaming about providing their children with alternative schooling or rather an alternative skilling – all merging into the same conceptual frame of education. Whether it be schooling or skilling, conscientious parents have started dribbling with ideas that satiate one’s thirst for knowledge and skills. How and where this knowledge and skills will be used, still remains a big question. This question related to the education system is also still burdened by the core and periphery concepts of the economy. Will our children be just animators of the periphery and the core or the global and local economies after being unethically categorized as human resources? One can only imagine a reproduction of ideologies in colourful fractals within the same core and the periphery as long as the world is animated by dualism. However, the scope of all possibilities exists beyond the binaries and fatalism associated with the vulgar reading of realities.

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