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Emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic

COVID-19 has affected the lives of 1.6 billion students globally—UNESCO.

Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic

Ever since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, nations around the world have banded against this invisible enemy that is the coronavirus.

As of this writing, there were 118,691,635 COVID-19 cases reported. Of the closed cases, 94,300,701 (97%) have recovered and 2,633,345 (3%) have died.

While the world mourns for the loss of lives, a hint of optimism remains for the rest of humanity. Thanks to rapid breakthroughs in medical science, coronavirus vaccines have been developed and are ready for distribution.

Challenges expected, unexpected

While vaccines provide people with hope, there are still reasons to be cautious more than ever at least in the short-term. First, it is a logistical nightmare to distribute vaccines in different countries around the world. A recent report by The Straits Times expected “logistics, regulatory bottlenecks” in Southeast Asia. CNN also reported a story that gave people an image of how it is like on the ground. A medical team in the United States, stuck in a blizzard, decided that instead of waiting for the vaccine to expire and go to waste, administered them to stranded motorists instead. 

While these concerns are expected to a degree, there were some unpleasant surprises. Much of these have to do with the new variants of the coronavirus recently being discovered from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.

In South Africa, the country decided to put a temporary hold on the rollout of the vaccine for its health care workers after reports that the vaccine was not as effective against the new variant in their country, which accounts for 90 percent of cases. This was confirmed by South Africa Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, who said that the vaccine “appeared effective against the original strain but not against the variant.” 

Numbers for hope

A CNN analysis published on Jan. 28 reported that, presuming a quarter of COVID-19 cases in the United States have recovered (and now hold a degree of immunity from the coronavirus, according to studies), and that another 24 million have at least received one of the two doses of the vaccine, one in three of the US population now have a degree of protection against the virus.

This provides the rest of the world some relief, as the US actually leads the list of countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases as of Jan. 27.

A Forbes article which pointed to 2020 as “the worst civil aviation market downturn in history,” also expressed optimism and presented four points why international travel will have a strong recovery in 2021.

The reasons: First—in the eyes of the traveling public—the recent arrival of the vaccines and the actual plans of governments to distribute them is a direct solution to the pandemic. Second, economic markets are actually doing better than what most people imagine. The stock markets are in shape. The real estate market is doing well. The U.S national savings rate is at a 45-year high. Third, and quite simply, people just can’t wait to travel again. Last, China is showing the world a good sign when it comes to air travel recovery. It bottomed to 80 percent during the pandemic, now it’s close to being at its peak again.

Education matters

COVID-19 has affected the lives of 1.6 billion students in over 190 countries. According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the year 2020 has seen the “closure of schools, universities and other learning institutions, as well as the interruption of many literacy and lifelong learning programmes.”

This year’s observance of the International Day of Education couldn’t have been more timely. The day is celebrated every January 24, and this year’s event would have only been its third since it was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 2018.

In light of the celebration, UNESCO stated one of its goals: “Give voice to the COVID-19 generation to express their concerns and aspirations in the face of a future marked by an economic recession and climate change.”

Effect and response

At the onset of COVID-19, its impact was immediately felt in higher education institutions (HEIs). Onsite classes were cancelled and some international students were encouraged to return to their home countries and continue their studies from there instead. In the US alone, its economy is bracing for the effect of the travel restrictions—there are more than one million international students in America, a third of them from China.

However, in spite of all these, some good things have emerged out of the troubles as well and higher education institutions (HEIs) are taking note of them. Like for one, the rise of Education Technology at the forefront.

This 2021, it is up to leaders in the education sector to take on the challenge of continuing their good work. This is the year to put plans into action. 

The United Kingdom has stepped up, setting an example for those in education. It recently revealed its position and plans on international education through a 52-page policy paper. Under section 1.4 it reported: “The education sector rapidly and innovatively rose to the challenge, acting in the best interests of students to protect both their health and education. Many education exports, from ELT to curriculum development and examinations, have been successfully transitioned online.”

Predictions

From all the news items and numbers stated above, we could draw some modest predictions for international education this year:

  • An institution’s level of investment with Education Technology will be vital to its survival. 
  • Blended learning will be integrated in existing curriculums. It will become the norm, even when face-to-face classes resume.
  • Technology will not only be reserved for academic purposes. It will be tapped by schools as well in a way that will ensure that their campuses are COVID-free.
  • Student recruitment events, school programs and conferences will all be hosted online. 
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Data sources:

Ghebreyesus, T. (2020, March 11) WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID 19. World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—11-march-2020.

Shaw, D. (2020, August 25),  Invisible Enemies: Coronavirus and Other Hidden Threats. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry/Springer.com. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11673-020-10015-w.

Coronavirus Cases (2021, February 16). Worldometer. Retrieved from https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/.

The different types of COVID-19 vaccines (2021, Jan 12). World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/the-race-for-a-covid-19-vaccine-explained.

Logistics, regulatory bottlenecks loom as Southeast Asia embarks on COVID 19 vaccine rollout. (2021, February 7). The Straits Times. Retrieved from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1393045/logistics-regulatory-bottlenecks-loom-as-southeast-asia-embarks-on-covid-19-vaccine-rollout

Rose, A. (2021, January 28) Health workers, stuck in the snow, administer coronavirus vaccine to stranded drivers. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/28/us/snow-storm-covid-vaccines-oregon-trnd/index.html.

New Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19. (2021, February 2). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html

The Associated Press (2021, February 8). South Africa halts AstraZeneca vaccine after study questions effectiveness against variant. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/south-africa-halts-astrazeneca-vaccine-after-study-questions-effectiveness-against-n1256981.

Rahim, Z. (2021, January 14) Covid-19 infection grants immunity for five months, UK study suggests. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/14/health/covid-immunity-antibodies-intl/index.html

McPhillips, D. (2021, January 28) Covid-19 protection: CNN analysis suggests 12% — and as much as a third  — of the US population might currently have some protection against Covid-19. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/28/health/covid-19-protection/index.html

Aboulafia, R. (2020, December 28) A Faster-Than-Expected Recovery In Air Travel And Other 2021 Predictions. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardaboulafia/2021/12/28/a-faster-than-expected-recovery-in-air-travel-and-other-2021-predictions/.

International Day of Education 2021 (2021, January 21).UNESCO. Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/news/international-day-education-2021.

Camera, L. (2020, March 9) Coronavirus Takes Toll on K-12 and Higher Education. US News. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2020-03-09/coronavirus-takes-toll-on-k-12-and-higher-education.

Singer, S. (2020, February 29) UConn, Trinity cancel travel to Italy, citing federal recommendations on coronavirus, advise quick return to US. Hartford Courant. Retrieved from https://www.courant.com/breaking-news/hc-br-uconn-coronoavirus-italy-20200229-akkxc3lmlfbrhgxpl6npoe4lp4-story.html.

O’Brien, J. (2020, May 5). More than a Lifeline. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2020/05/05/covid-19-has-demonstrated-how-technology-higher-ed-major-strategic-asset-opinion.

International Education Strategy: 2021 update: Supporting recovery, driving growth. (2021, February 6).  GOV.UK. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/international-education-strategy-2021-update/international-education-strategy-2021-update-supporting-recovery-driving-growth. 

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