Vol. 07 (March 2020) : [19] Collection home page

Editor’s Note: COVID19

The world is passing through an unprecedented crisis named COVID19 since January this year. Country after country declared lock-down, half of the global population is living in quarantine, nearly 20 million infected, nearly a million unfortunate souls have perished untimely. In India, COVID+ cases have touched two million mark with nearly 40,000 dead. With more than 50,000 positive cases (reported everyday) India now tops the world in terms of daily infections. In this unusual time, the entire human race is living in a constant fear of catching infection, and death. A gigantic global crisis is looming as production stands shut, and distribution heavily disturbed, the global economy is in deep slump and the livelihoods of billions of workers are under serious threat, while many are already jobless. An uncertain future faces billions of young educated job aspirants. Depression, violence, crime and suicide rates are on the rise. Nobody knows for how long the menace will dawdle. The global community spent the first half of 2020 grappling with the magnitude of the global pandemic, which has had its ramification in all walks of life. The social scientists and planners are busy calculating the scale of the damage and the medical science is busy finding a solution to the crisis. The treatment protocol, both for the disease and the social ruins, appear tentative and uncertain and a vaccine is a far cry. In late July while some of the countries have reversed the trend, India experiences uncontrolled community spread with no one assuring when the curve will flatten. Banking on good health infrastructure, political will, strong social commitment and care some of the Indian states, namely Kerala, Punjab and Rajasthan have done reasonably well in addressing the crisis, while in other states, where these factors are absent, have left everything on the clemency of God. The pandemic has thoroughly exposed some perils of India’s neo-liberal order. We now realise, more than ever before, that over dependence on private capital and a weak social sector unavoidably make the vulnerable section absolutely defenceless in the face of a major social crisis. We can see, for example, thrust on private hospitals, while impoverished and ill maintained public health is not the right policy to protect our people from a pandemic. India spends only about 1 per cent of its GDP on health, compared to an average of 10 per cent in the developed countries. The doctors, nurses and paramedical staff have put up a brave face, and some of them lost their lives while working with high risk. But there are also reports about doctors skipping their duties and nurses leaving hospitals after mass resignation. The inhuman face of the neo-liberal order stands thoroughly exposed and globally concerned scholars are arguing if humanity would be better off in socialist or social democratic orders. The disease does not have a levelling effect. The privileged, who have amassed enough wealth, can afford a life with few months of no income. They shut down factories while putting the lives of the workers at risk. The privileged can take all the extra caution and have all the means to avoid contamination. The underprivileged, on the other hand, have to work and earn to survive; they live in villages and urban slums, and it is simply not possible for them to avoid contacts and therefore contamination. Just look at how COVID19 has spread in the slum areas of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangaluru and Kolkata. The market places, where the poor gather in large numbers, could also be the sources from where the disease can spread fast. Once diseased the poor can only hope to go to the government hospitals, which are already stressed and are short of facilities. The years of neglect of public health system and the greed of the private hospitals have together brought the country at the threshold of such devastation. We have been witness to the greatest humanitarian disaster, after the partition disaster at the time of Independence, as a result of sudden declaration of nation-wide lockdown on 22 March 2020. About 8 lakh migrant labourers lost their jobs and the fear of starvation death loomed large. Driven by starvation worries they wanted to return home. The stranded labourers received no logistic support and in the absence of any form of vehicle, they marched for days and months back home. In this long march for life, many died of hunger, disease and road accidents. Both the central and the state government remained silent spectators to the disaster. Under mounting pressure from different corners, the governments started running some special trains to help the stranded workers travel back home. All educational institutions have been shut since the middle of March and nobody knows when the teachers, students and scholars will swarm the educational institutions again. The teachers have been denied the warm company of students, scholars, fellow teachers and other members of the university community; visits to other universities and academic institutions have stopped as we are taken over by an overdose of death threat. In political circles there is a feeling that teachers are sitting idle yet drawing handsome salary; some insentivie corners have even suggested suspension of payments to the teachers. The anti-teacher sentiments reel on a misconception that teachers are generally useless, yet well-fed. The teachers, students and scholars had to redefine their tasks in order to remain relevant. They (at least a large section) opted for an on-line teaching platform and few concentrated more on research, reading and writing. As a life line of the pedagogic system, a new method called online teaching (and possibly examination) is being tried out in schools, colleges and universities. The UGC and governments at the Centre and States have supported the move in no uncertain terms. Some colleges and universities are already conducting classes, examinations, on line communication of assignments, holding of viva-voce at different levels with some encouraging results. The growing access to smart phones, internet and handy software applications, the practice of on-line teaching is going up big scale. However, with further sophistication and massification of communication technology we apprehend on-line education replacing the conventional class-room teaching in the near future. The State’s reluctance to spend on education (in India the annual education budget stands appallingly low at 3 per cent of the GDP), increasing privatization of education and confusion of modernity with technology may turn the fear into reality. Left to private capital, the future mechanized education could be reduced to lesion modules produced in a centralized factory, and then sold all over the country for the students to memorise and reproduce mechanically against MCQs sitting in front of laptops. Let us take a brief look at what the mechanization and automation might turn the existing education system into. The standard understanding of an academic institution is a communion of teachers, students, scholars, face to face interaction inside and outside class room, student to student interaction in the department, canteen, library, the impish hostel life, concerts and ‘adda’. The ambiance of class rooms, the library, the hostel, the canteen, the lawns and the gardens and, overall, the life of a university campus cannot be created on-line. The colleges and universities not only facilitate dissemination of ideas and information, but they also give a platform for critical engagement through dialogues and birth to empowered agency, thus future leaders in different walks of life. Mechanization of education would mean death knell for the very idea of education. At a time of big data and complete gaze (by national and global regimes) virtual education (online) will kill critical thinking and promote intellectual servitude. The teachers and students will be bid “good bye” from the campuses, as education will be mechanical with no room for dialogue. Education budget can cut to size by the masters of neoliberalism. We are definitely in for major paradigm shift in education post-COVID. The pandemic is being used as a pretext for the increasingly pervasive diffusion of digital technologies. The face-to-face contact, dialogues and dissent will disappear and lectures will be monologues. Physical presence, counselling of the weak and stressed, depressed students, the library visits, habit of reading books will depart for good. Group discussions and seminars will also disappear, which were an inseparable part of pedagogy. Campus life and the lived experiences amidst campus culture, where world cultures meet, will vanish. Students would be reduced to career-seeking selfish creatures. Friendships and relations that are built during college and university days which sustain us in our later life cannot be built through on-line education. Small towns, the university hubs, which used to come alive after the admission session every year, will lose their vibrance and mobility, and millions living in the small towns will lose their livelihood. The system will try to coerce the students and experts into the new order as the course-curricula and the module production will be the monopoly of the ideologues in power. Should we accept new servitude that the digital education promises to bring? A scholar to reckon with in the field of Indian pedagogy, Professor Abhijit Pathak in one of his recent lectures asked: Shall the teachers give their nod to this technological barbarism?

Prof. Sanjay K. Roy
Department of Sociology
North Bengal University
5 August 2020

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Collection's Items (Sorted by Submit Date in Descending order): 1 to 19 of 19
Issue DateTitleAuthor(s)
2020-03-31Roy, Sinjini, 2019, LIFE OF THE MIDDLECLASS AGED IN KOLKATA. Kalpaz Publications: Delhi.ISBN110052. Pp. 255, Tables 35, Price: Rs. 850.Danda, Ajit K.
2020-03-31Aesthetic imageries : look at the ideas of sartre and levi-straussRoy, Sanjay K.
2020-03-31Body and ornaments : reflection on ghurye’s perspectiveRaha, Sylvia
2020-03-31Significance of brata rituals in the life of the married women in rural bengal significance of brata rituals in the life of the married women in rural bengalGupta, Anuja
2020-03-31Life of the Workers in an Abandoned Tea garden in North BengalRai, Ambika
2020-03-31Travails with motherhood : auto-ethnographic exploration of being a motherChatterjee, Ananya
2020-03-31Significance of “Empathy” in social sciencesRoy, Sinjini
2020-03-31My experience with ‘Others’De, Arpita
2020-03-31Ibn-Khaldun’s contribution to sociologyMondal, Sekh Rahim
2020-03-31Reformist movement in india : analysis of the role of sant kabir in bhakti traditionKumar, Ramesh
2020-03-31Hawking on the lines : tales of the railway hawkers and their everydaysBhattacharyya, Anindya
2020-03-31Livelihood challenges and survival strategies of the hill-kharia and mankadiatribes in mayurbhanj district of odishaBehera, Minaketan; Panigrahi, Kumuda Chandra
2020-03-31Development of an experiential selfDatta, Maitreyee
2020-03-31Formation and care of self : foucauldian analysisGoswami, Gargi
2020-03-31Teaching culture, transforming selves : insight into life-skill lessons offered at government schoolsBhowmick, Arunima
2020-03-31Criminal tribes & the raj : ideology of control in colonial IndiaSaha, Anjan
2020-03-31Redefining the contours : survey on the new methods used in social sciencesSen, Sudarshana
2020-03-31Journeys to autumnChakraborty, Jhuma
2020-03-31Development of a dalit self: vasant moon and the aura of Dr. B. R. AmbedkarBiswas, Saswati
Collection's Items (Sorted by Submit Date in Descending order): 1 to 19 of 19