Reading a diverse range of essays from different age groups has given me a more in-depth insight into students’ feelings who have been compelled to live and learn in confined spaces in times of COVID-19. It has been encouraging to note that their learnings continued at home during the lockdown. Most writers share a concern for the society while discussing about health, education, the multidimensional inequalities and climate change. As a young member of the screening committee for the pan India essay contest on ‘A Year After Coronavirus’, it has been heartening to realize that regardless of their age, the youth have collectively shared an aspiration to move towards an inclusive future post the global pandemic.
Screening Committee Member
Associate Programme Coordinator
Education Sector, UNESCO New Delhi
A Year After Coronavirus: An Inclusive ‘New Normal’
Six months into a new decade, 2020 has already been earmarked as ‘the worst’ year in the 21st century. The novel coronavirus has given rise to a global pandemic that has destabilized most institutional settings. While we live in times when humankind possesses the most advanced science and technology, a virus invisible to the naked eye has massively disrupted economies, healthcare, and education systems worldwide. This should serve as a reminder that as we keep making progress in science and research, humanity will continue to face challenges in the future, and it is upon us to prioritize those issues that are most relevant in the 21st century.
Even amidst the pandemic, Space X, an American aerospace manufacturer, managed to become the first private company to send humans to space. While this is a tremendous achievement and prepares humanity for a sustainable future, I feel there is a need to introspect the challenges that we are already facing. On the one hand, we seem to be preparing beyond the 21st century. On the other hand, heightened nationalism, increasing violence against marginalized communities and multidimensional inequalities across all sectors continue to act as barriers to growth for most individuals across the globe. COVID-19 has reinforced these multifaceted economic, social and cultural inequalities wherein those in situations of vulnerability have found it increasingly difficult to get quality medical attention, access to quality education, and have witnessed increased domestic violence while being confined to their homes.
Given the coronavirus’s current situation, some households have also had time to introspect on gender roles and stereotypes. For instance, women are expected to carry out unpaid care work like cooking, cleaning, and looking after the family. There is no valid reason to believe that women ought to carry out these activities, and men have no role in contributing to household chores. With men having shared household chores during the lockdown period, it gives hope that they will realize the burden that women have been bearing for past decades and will continue sharing responsibilities. However, it would be naïve to believe that gender discrimination could be tackled so easily, and men would give up on their decades' old habits within a couple of months. Thus, during and after the pandemic, there is an urgent need to sensitize households on the importance of gender equality and social cohesion.
Moving forward, developing quality healthcare systems that are affordable and accessible to all should be the primary objective for all governments. This can be done by increasing expenditure towards health and education and simultaneously reducing expenditure on defence equipment where the latter mainly gives rise to an idea that countries need to be prepared for violence. There is substantial evidence that increased investment in health and education is beneficial in the long-term and can potentially build the basic foundation of a country.
If it can be established that usage of nuclear weapons, violence and war are not solutions to any problem, governments (like, for example, Costa Rica) could move towards disarmament of weapons and do their part in building a more peaceful planet that is sustainable for the future. This would further promote global citizenship wherein nationality, race, gender, caste, and other categories, are just mere variables and they do not become identities of individuals that restrict their thought process. The aim should be to build responsible citizens who play an active role in their society and work collectively in helping develop a planet that is well-governed, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable.
‘A year after Coronavirus’ is still an unknown, so I think that our immediate focus should be to tackle the complex problems that have emerged from the pandemic so that we make the year after coronavirus one which highlights recovery and acts as a pathway to fresh beginnings. While there is little to gain from such a fatal cause, it is vital that we also use it to make the ‘new normal’ in favour of the environment and ensure that no one is left behind.