To say that these are unprecedented times is an understatement. The last time an event such as the current Corona virus pandemic affected every human and facet of society regardless of location, socio-economic status was arguably World War II. Even then, the citizens in some nation-states that were not in direct conflict lived there lives as they did before the war. Possibly the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic is the only comparable event where 1/3 of the world’s population became infected and worldwide deaths were at least 50 million. Using that pandemic as a frame of reference, it took approximately a year to stabilize the virus but there were still outbreaks every flu season for the next 38 years. (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html) The Corona virus has changed the very fabric of society and construct across the entire world and changes will in many cases be permanent. It is not too early to start assessing the changes which are not all bad. This author will address the potential changes in a weekly article for the next several weeks that will cover two areas of society and the pluses, minuses, and unknowns of those topics.
Prior to the start of the pandemic, online education was seen as a niche way to teach and online degrees were scoffed at compared to traditional brick and mortar education. Schools and universities paid lip service to teaching online and only included it in their portfolio to show that they were with the times. That has changed now. Professors and teachers will actually have to teach classes online for classes that were seen as impossible to instruct via computer. Classes such as biology or engineering labs, modern arts classes, dance, etc. are being forced to innovate on the fly. What about physical education? Furthermore, preventing test cheating will be a challenge. Current online curriculums use shared screens, screen locks, and cameras to monitor students.
Without the face-to-face instruction that students are used to, will they learn as well? Will they succeed? This author would argue that it will require a complete shift in the philosophy of education from teacher/top driven curriculum and students in seats to a lot of independent study that is student driven. There is precedence for this and some examples to emulate. Some of the greatest minds in U.S. history were self-taught, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln just to name a few. Also, the classical education model of student-guided study based on the interests and needs of the student as well as some home-schooling curriculums demonstrate that it can be done quite successfully. (www.edsurge.com/amp/news/2018-06-19-how-a-classics-education-prepares-students-for-a-modern-world)
Unfortunately, students who require specialized attention will suffer with online education only. How do you teach special needs children online?
Educators will have to address the digital divide due to socio-economic status and availability of internet service. Approximately three-quarters of American adults have broadband internet service at home. To ensure fairness across the entire U.S. student body (at least K-12) schools, local, state, and federal authorities and private industry will have to fill the gap of the one-quarter of the population that does not have that access. (Pew Research Center, Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet, 12 June 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/) Broadband internet access should be treated with the same urgency and right as electricity and phone access. The U.S. federal government created the National Broadband Plan in 2010 and the American Broadband Initiative in 2019 to connect all Americans.
Education in how to use technology will become very important; especially for workers who are not tech savvy. Corporations will not be able to assume that workers know how to use video conference applications or equipment. Older workers potentially will have a steep learning curve.
An intangible repercussion of the Coronavirus pandemic is the human toll. Financially struggling college students are having to further stretch out their limited resources or postpone their education all together. Mandatory courses have been cancelled and internships gone. Guaranteed housing and meals are no longer available. In Los Angeles, 13% of high school students have had zero online contact with teachers and one-third are not regularly participating in online instruction. (“As School Moves Online, Many Students Stay Logged Out,” Dana Goldstein, Adam Popescu, & Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times, 6 April 20, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/us/coronavirus-schools-attendance-absent.html) Will there be a large increase in students repeating grades? Also, college and high school seniors from across the country have been striving towards graduation day with all of its pomp and circumstance to now have that taken away. The service academies and military colleges with their centuries of traditions are having to adapt. Will the U.S. see a drop in college graduates that fuel the workforce?
Schools that can provide a quality online education that is respected as much as a traditional brick and mortar school will excel; as well as those schools and students who are able to adapt more easily to the entire upending of the premises behind education systems. The longer the shelter in place orders stand and the more often they occur will likely see the demise of some schools of higher education who cannot adapt and they will also serve as a forcing function for quality, ease of use, online learning. Unfortunately, many students might not make it either.
SOCIAL INTERACTION & FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
The worldwide push for social distancing has fundamentally changed how we interact from shopping to religion to our freedom of movement. The world has also seen both autocratic and democratic countries increase controls over their populations. (“For Autocrats, and Others, Coronavirus is a Chance to Grab Even More Power,” New York Times, 31 March 2020, https://nyti.ms/39qLqJt) The pandemic has been a boom for videoconferencing apps such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Until the virus struck, there was arguably a cultural fight over “screen time”. This author would argue that the screen won. Most people have significantly reduced their face-to-face interaction with others and reach out more via technology. In many ways, the pandemic is forcing tech on those who have resisted it otherwise. Even the way we interact in person is changing. No longer do we hug or always shake hands. It has become customary now for just a verbal hello or an elbow bump keeping six feet away from each other.
It has also caused further social isolation for the elderly and those without reliable internet access. The isolation will also have unintended negative consequences with a likely rise in suicides. During the past week, two seniors at the U.S. Air Force Academy committed suicide. While there is not direct evidence that links the suicides to social isolation, it surely contributed to them. (https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/04/01/air-force-academy-eases-restrictions-after-2-suspected-suicides.html) Also likely is an increase in domestic violence with families in constant close quarters. As a result, virtual counseling and outreach will have to increase to counter the downside to the shelter in place.
Also with the mandatory shelters-in-place throughout the world, traditional freedom of movement has been significantly curtailed. It has always been seen as an inherent right to go where you want, when you want; especially in the U.S. and democratic countries. Will there be an outcry against the restrictions or will it be the new norm? Conspiracy theories about the National Guard instituting martial law abound, but they are false. Furthermore, initiating martial law is usually only reserved for civil insurrection or direct threats to the homeland. A precise definition of martial law does not exist either nor is it clear if the authority at the U.S. federal level resides with the president or Congress. How do democratic governments balance inherent freedoms such as going where we want, when we want with limiting the spread of a virus? This paper would recommend laws with built in “sunset provisions” that require renewal every six months. For the record, the last time the U.S. federal government declared martial law was in Hawaii at the start of World War II. (“Martial Law Would Sweep the Country Into a Great Legal Unknown,” The Atlantic, Stephen Dycus and William C. Banks, 27 March 2020, www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/608773/)
Furthermore, authorities expect subsequent waves of the virus. It is likely that “rolling shelters-in-place” will become the norm. (“Coronavirus epicenter could “possibly” shift back to Asia, says public health expert”, CNBC, 2 April 2020, www.cnbc.com/amp/2020/04/02/coronavirus-epicenter-could-possibly-shift-back-to-asia-health-expert.html). Planning for large-scale gatherings will have to include contingency plans for outbreaks, and planners will have to factor in the risk to the participants vs. the value of the gatherings. The forced social isolation will help promote e-sports from the fringe to mainstream. NASCAR has broadcast virtual races over the past three weekends with 1.3 million viewers on its second weekend. (“The Best Thing About NASCAR’s Virtual Races Might Be the Real Competition,” New York Times, 5 April 20, www.nytimes.com/2020/04/05/sports/autoracing/coronavirus-nascar-racing-earnhardt.amp.html) Will virtual concerts, political conventions, and conferences become the norm?
About the Author:
Spent over 26 years in the Army as both enlisted and as an officer to include 19 years in Special Forces. He continued his service post military working for the government as a civilian and in that capacity served in various hot spots around the world. Some of his deployments include Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, Korea, and Ukraine. He has written extensively on international security matters.
Francis Marion is an SOFX BLACK network member and can be reached for comment at [email protected]
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