COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire world on its knees and no nation, irrespective of it being highly developed, technologically advanced or economically prosperous has remained unscathed. And despite all boasts of spectacular advances in the field of medical sciences, a microscopic virus is today holding the human race to ransom.
With US, the most technologically advanced and economically prosperous nation on this planet reeling under COVID-19 pandemic, with ‘social distancing’ and ‘lockdown’ as the only means to escape this Coronavirus and with the mighty President of the United States of America incoherent response, one can only conclude that many myths have being broken.
Despite being steered by a clear headed and a resolute leader like PM Narendra Modi, India too has been very badly shaken by the COVID-19 outbreak and given the severity of this pandemic, one is not exactly sure as to what the after-effects of this major catastrophe will have on physical, emotional, spiritual and social values in India by the time the country goes past this invisible enemy. Hence, while we are at the cross roads, with one path leading to survival and the other to extinction, we need to ponder over some of the systems and institutions that are most critical for the future. Whereas material losses due to this pandemic can be progressively made up, it’s adverse effect on education is something that can’t be negated and since education is the stepping stone for human development, it rightly demands maximum thought.
The last few sessions are replete with the instances of disruptions due to a variety of reasons such as demonetization, NRC and CAA agitations, pollution, abrogation of Article 370 & Article 35-A, and finally COVID-19. Whether it is Delhi, Puducherry, Punjab, West Bengal or J&K, there have been ‘shocks’ everywhere but the point to note is that common solutions cannot be applied to them. And since COVID-19 pandemic seems to be the ‘mother’ of all crisis, it’s an extraordinary situation that requires extraordinary measures. What sets this apart from other disruptions is its uncertainty in that, one cannot even guess as to how long the pandemic will it continue.
While the government is relying on social awareness to help beat this virus as much as the society is banking on government’s preparedness. The sad part is that none of the two are sure about the future.
We broadly know what is to be done to ensure that one’s neighbour does not contract the disease, or that a young student does not infect an older relative. In essence, we are educated enough to know the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of our behaviour, but where we lack is the resolve and the value system that reminds us to do what it takes to ensure that we will protect own self and also be instrumental in not infecting others. So, where does the fault lie? This brings us to the question whether the Indian education system is promoting a value system that encourages compassion, empathy and discipline aimed at public welfare? The sad answer to this question is negative. So, is there a case for an alternate approach to education to instill the intent to act selflessly in the interest of the society at large?
In November 2019, the 40th UNESCO General Conference adopted the new global framework on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD for 2030) for the period of 2020-2030. The global framework for implementation of ESD is the follow up to the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD (GAP, 2015-2019). ESD for 2030 aims to build a more just and sustainable world through strengthening ESD and contributing to the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The framework will focus on integrating ESD and the 17 SDGs into policies, learning environments, capacity building of educators, empowerment and mobilization of youth, and local level action.
Furthermore, UNESCO also plans to host a ‘UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development’ after the world recovers from this ongoing crisis. The Conference will raise awareness of these challenges, highlight the crucial role of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as a key enabler for the successful achievement of all SDGs, and create momentum for strengthening ESD in policy and practice.
ESD is aimed at internalizing the unintended effects of one’s actions on others. By introducing subjects such as gender studies and environmental sustainability, education systems across the world are trying to ingrain among their students these concepts at a very young age. The overall objective hinges around the idea of translating academic concepts into relatable real-life challenges and finding their solutions through multidisciplinary, inter-disciplinary and multidimensional approaches. ESD’s focus would often be on ignored soft skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, leadership and communication and equipping students with the right toolkit to deal with these challenges.
Evidence from across the world suggests that ESD curricula should help students develop a deeper understanding of real-life challenges that the global community is facing. These include (but are not limited to), climate change, socio-economic inequality, gender bias and peace-building. Through such a holistic approach, ESD wishes to not only develop virtues such as empathy and compassion, but also remain correlated with better grades and a wider range of future academic and professional opportunities for students. It is, therefore, not surprising that UNESCO is pursuing this objective very rigorously and is working with policy-makers and educational institutions across the world to scale these efforts up. However, a lot still remains to be done.
As much as we may want to wish, the COVID-19 crisis will not be the last such aggregate shock. By not focusing on skills aimed at sustainable cohabitation, we have already produced several generations of adults who may not be psychologically equipped to deal with such challenges. Our best hope, in such a case, is to begin as soon as possible and churn out the next generation of community leaders who can think not only for themselves but also for those around them.
The concept will have three pillars of application, viz, knowledge, skills and attitudes. The curriculum needs to be so structured that all three aspects are taken care of. There must be an online support system that will ensure easy implementation under these pillars. Host of study material, activity ideas, audio visuals, contact programmes, workshops, camps, etc will be factored in to achieve desirable results under each of these verticals.