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OP-ED: Opportunities missed

  • Published at 09:39 pm October 21st, 2020
Corona world

The pandemic was a chance for us to change things for the better

Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of the coronavirus is that the opportunities of learning, and change of brutally exposed disparities of society have been largely ignored. 

Pre-pandemic, the world economic order required re-engineering. Indicators suggested as much. Alarming downscaling of consumer spending in the face of rising prices had led to production falls, exports dwindling, and loss of jobs. Fears of another recession in the scale of 2008 were emerging. Economists had warned that the hit would come in mid-2020. 

Few were ready to listen. Countries seeking to spend beyond “acceptable” limits of debt were browbeaten. Infrastructure spending, in particular, was pooh-poohed. Such restrictions hit hard at the populist election campaigns of many states that had promised tax-cuts or lowering of them whilst advancing the development agenda. There was another side to it. Corruption, malgovernance, unnecessary and wasteful expenses, as viewed by watchdog and donor agencies (it’s more fashionable to say development partners) had in many cases too much to stomach. Government after government had promised to create jobs, improve governance, social security nets, and reign in corruption. 

Tenure after tenure, all such intentions essentially failed. With support from the development partners, there were some improvements, but starkly out of sync with the realities of demand. Corruption and tax avoidance led to Greece literally going bust. Governance and mismanagement has led to Argentina seeking a moratorium on debt alongside further assistance.  

While Greece’s government had to agree to humiliating conditions, including mortgaging land assets, no one seems to know what to do with Argentina. The question, if asked, was where did all of this money go? Israel, hugely dependent on the United States to merely exist, has an extensive nuclear weapons program that questions aren’t asked about and inspections don’t take place. India, with a major poverty situation, didn’t face strictures or sanctions about going nuclear or sending satellites into space, and yet is a large recipient of donor assistance. 

Ironically enough, it’s for infrastructure. Moreover, there is major support for its permanent membership of the UN Security Council. And Pakistan is allowed to spend similarly for all the hullabaloo of it being a “failed” state and a hotbed for terrorists. There are many more on the list. The argument that geopolitics has a lot to do with some of these examples aren’t unfounded. 

The lack of support for Bangladesh in the repatriation of the Rohingya is one clear example. China wants to explore the Rakhine state for mineral resources; India just agreed to build a plant and pipeline for gas, and the United States and EU don’t want to miss out on missed business opportunities. All of this weighs heavier than what Bangladesh offers: Regional connectivity. 

The approach roads of the Padma Bridge will effectively provide faster land connectivity with India at some stage. A similar road connectivity with China is also on the cards. Compare that with falling prices of oil buoyed by the cheaper affordability of renewable energy. That puts the Middle Eastern economy in a quandary and the spin-off impact on expatriate labour.

These and the trade war between China and the US point to the direction of a significant change in education as it currently is. An estimate suggests 50 million job losses due to AI in the next five years. Other jobs will emerge, but with different skill sets. 

In developing countries, businesses have been bemoaning the lack of education suited to their needs. Most countries have struggled to just get education up to basic levels. In so doing, they have missed the ability of sharper minds and curricula that generate thought rather than following tradition.  

With eight months or more of the pandemic-induced school closure, not much is known about changing curriculum. Officials have been scratching their heads in finding ways of returning to the normal as it used to be. Technology works in a few cases, but not universally. Evolutionary education, with checks and balances against nefarious activities, is an opportunity not to be missed, but it apparently has been. 

Education, research, and probing minds have brought revolutionary changes in a strife-torn world. Investments there are far better off for humanity than the defense industry. That is, of course, if we put words where mouths are, and strive for a better world for the next generation. Greta Thunberg has raised awareness about a better world now. The Nobel Prize judges didn’t believe so.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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