The key is to adapt to a changed world (Column: Corona’s sting – II)

<br>Rather than being bound by moribund restrictions of ancient treaties from Bretton Woods to WTO, trade and commerce needs to be reinvented. The role of the UN and its sundry offspring will need to be reworked too. One nation one vote may not be ideal to run pan global organisations anymore. Multi-lateralism needs a relook in the context of new realities. Calamities have in the past led to confrontation. However, this time, no one region or power has remained unscathed. Governments and leaders will be more responsive to their own people rather than building notional alliances.

As a wise man said, “Cost of living is cheap, the cost of lifestyle is experience.” When lifestyle becomes the fountainhead of disease — diabetes, hypertension, strokes et al — it will surely evoke a reassessment if not large-scale rejection of the way we live. Luxury itself will get redefined and exclusivity will override ostentation. Wealth in itself, after a point, is just symbolic as is borne by these shambolic times.


Humans are gregarious and so they shall be but gatherings will become smaller, personal and meaningful. The family as a fundamental building block of communities will rise once again. Look for more joint families rather than nuclear families in future. Empty nesters would love to hang on to the brood longer. The much-abused video calling and social messaging hopefully will be more interpersonal and help contact and bonding with kith and kin. A lot of grown-up children may end up staying with their parents even when they can move out.

I see the rise of larger households with inbuilt privacy. Independence needs interdependent individuals and groups. Somewhere virtual relationships will have to connect with the real world. Expect more spiritualism.

Every government, especially in a country like India, is raising its expenditure in the health sector. We will see an immediate ramp up of hospital beds, even new hospitals — tertiary, general and primary. Obviously, the number of trained health workers from ward boys, nursing staff, laboratory technicians, radiologists to doctors cannot increase overnight.

We will see better wage structure in the health sector attract more youngsters. Perhaps we need to train a much larger paramedic force to cope up with future emergencies. Pharmaceuticals, bulk drugs, even vaccines manufacturing needs a desperate leg up with suitable incentives. While Ayushman Bharat is a great model, immediate attention must be given to the rural touch points. India will have to, in the short term, double its expenditure on health. Crowded hospitals and a perennial shortage of trained health workers and equipment just won't work in future emergencies.

Fortunately, this crisis has highlighted the significance of telemedicine and remote diagnostics. We shall see a spurt in distant treatment all over the world. Newer mobile phones will incorporate more diagnostic functions in them. Online delivery of medicines, especially in smaller towns and villages, is another area of growth. Personal protection equipment (PPEs), Hazmat suits, surgical masks and gloves, and controlled entry into hospitals will become par for the course. A number of other vaccines (pneumonia, flu, malaria and HIV) will be added to polio, BCG which are mandatory today.

One more sector which will change is education. Schools and colleges are traditionally places where children and youth congregate. Our classrooms and campuses are largely overcrowded. With poor infrastructure. Even basic toilets are either missing or are unhygienic.

It is impossible to upgrade facilities in the short term so it is the way we teach which will change. A lot of classes will have to move online. The stilted examination-oriented system, where students score an absurd 99 per cent marks, will be replaced by a graded evaluation system. Tele-learning, classrooms on mobile and, of course, online courses will be the new norm. Classes and lectures will be staggered.

As Poornima Luthra of TalentEd Consultancy says: “The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in educational institutions across the world being compelled to suddenly harness and utilize the suite of available technological tools to create content for remote learning for students in all sectors. Educators across the world are experiencing new possibilities to do things differently and with greater flexibility, resulting in potential benefits in accessibility to education for students. These are new modes of instruction that have previously been largely untapped particularly in the kindergarten to Grade 12 arena.”

Remote learning and online education will be among the fastest growing sectors in the next 10 years. Reskilling for the New Age economy is a challenge and with millions of young unemployed, it will require gigantic effort and money. How quickly we are able to adapt existing schools, polytechnics and universities to the needs of tomorrow is the key.

To be continued…

(Amit Khanna is a writer, filmmaker and social commentator)


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