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OP-ED: A stitch in time, and what happens without it

  • Published at 04:00 am July 16th, 2021
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How we can change while remembering the basics

As if the economic and social disasters weren’t enough, worried parents have been left in the lurch. Education, the supposed backbone of a progressive society, has effectively been denied our children for more than a year. 

The on and off measures experimented by developed countries have all failed. Online classes, designed for structurally designed societies, have been castigated by psychologists. The touch-feel original systems have not had the desired effect, and contrarily contributed further to depression. 

Young minds have been scarred, and there’s no end in sight. Cut and paste to developing countries, and the prospects become more frightening. Availability of online schooling just cannot cover the child population. Outcomes are frightening. It becomes another feather in the cap of exclusive rather than inclusive schooling. Teachers’ skills, already questionable, haven’t been advanced by any form of training. What is one’s forte is another’s bane.

Forward planning devoid of adjusting to and accommodating reality has fallen on its face. Bangladesh is just one country added to the list of those that were caught unprepared in all aspects of life. The world moved -- as did we -- on its own momentum. And like a drone, the question was how soon we could return to the way it used to be. The lack of planning for the “new normal” or, should one say the “new abnormal,” in every facet of society arises from that flawed concept. All will be OK. It won’t.

Chemistry is changing. The mystery of the human body has never truly been unravelled -- nor will it be. The interdependence of chemical and biological mechanisms has been jolted, and everyone’s scrambling just to “fix” systems that go awry. One visible outcome is psychological. Nature -- and the habits we threaded around it -- isn’t available anymore. Most of it is our own doing. Technology has distanced social interaction. That by itself has had an impact that few have been able to deal with. Tempers fray quicker, depression engulfs and lead to helplessness.  

There were opportunities. Hidden as they were by the need for responding to the invisible enemy, the other and far overreaching invisible need -- that of well-being -- was overlooked. It’s still not too late to consider radical changes to our approach to and delivery of education. A truncated syllabus was the easy answer simply because we were unable or unwilling to look beyond. Open air education, “feeling” rather than “reading” literature, absorbing practical outputs of the sciences rather than depending on theory could have been better explored. 

Take for example “Man is a social animal,” and the relevance becomes clear. How is it a social animal when “social distancing” has to be put in place? Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe went as far as to implore facing away from each other when eating to prevent the spread of the virus. In so doing, he hit at the heart of a centuries-old tradition of supping together to increase bonding. Yet, it may well become the new norm, the first possible step towards the Star Trek-predicted meals in tablets.

Modern technology, if it may be called as such, has taken us away from the fresh breezes to air-conditioning. Questions about the emissions lead us down new paths of “fixing” or “neutralizing” such chemical creations. We refuse to revert to open-air activity that would create far more practical experiences of how we have used technology to devastate nature’s bounties. Mathematics and its derivatives are just visual representations of understanding the cycle of life. No single discipline has the answers. 

Yet, till now, no one has tried to crack the puzzle of these seemingly separate yet inextricably intertwined versions. Literature described the “feel” of a soothing breeze on a perspiring forehead. Science went the other way in “cooling” beyond needs to achieve the same effect. Water continues to be the best thirst quencher no matter the explosion of other concoctions that promise the same. For breezes to be effective, air needs to be cleaner, water needs to be unpolluted to refresh us, enhancers and fortification are readily available in nature. 

The barrier coming in between is big business and commercial interests. So, instead of adapting to ways to scale the heights, we look further into refining them, taking us further away from convergence and communing with nature.

“Tradition is the way it used to be” was the punch-line of a whiskey advertisement. And yet, physical science tells us that fruit in its original form with no added preservatives can give us all the nutrients needed. Tradition can be adapted and improved upon. It doesn’t need to change. What change does require of us, is to stay with the basics so as to maintain the balance. To that end, education in the form we know it needs to evolve.

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

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