Are there really any Positives from the Pandemic?

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago I suggested that COVID-19 might help us become more empathetic towards the life experiences and challenges of vulnerable groups and recognise the opportunity to transition to a more inclusive and sustainable world.

Many people – including several authors of this blog – have seen the pandemic as an opportunity or a lesson for the transition to an alternate world.

Take for example the environmental crisis. During lockdowns, we have witnessed some unexpected positive pictures: wild animals roaming in cities, clear waters in Venice’s canals! Our interest in the environment has also increased. The global number of online searches for “bird sounds”, “identify trees”, and “growing plants” have increased by a factor of two.

Other views, however, are more sceptical. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek doubts that the  epidemic will make us any wiser.  And Bruno Latour puts forward the hypothesis that “the pandemic prepares, induces, and incites us to prepare for climate change”. Both Žižek and Latour recognise that drastic changes are required to transition to an alternate world.

There is an autistic person with impressive achievements in climate-change activism. Starting from school strikes, Greta Thunberg has made a substantial impact on public awareness of the catastrophic threat of climate change.

However, there is also significant controversy around Greta as a public figure. Being young, female, and autistic, Greta Thunberg brings together several characteristics that tap into implicit biases about who should have an active role in public life and who should, and should not, be listened to.

For Greta “Being different is a gift… It makes me see things from outside the box. I don’t easily fall for lies, I can see through things. If I would’ve been like everyone else, I wouldn’t have started this school strike for instance.”

It is, perhaps, because of her autism that Greta extends her activism to the pandemic crisis. A few days ago, Greta urged governments, vaccine developers and the world to “step up their game” to fight vaccine inequity after the richest countries bought up most COVID-19 vaccine doses and those in poorer nations have gone lacking.

With regards to lessons learnt from the pandemic, Greta seems to align with Žižek and Latour.  “COVID-19’s impact on the world is first and foremost a tragedy,”. “The pandemic has no advantage or positive aspects … We shouldn’t be speaking of lessons that can be learned from it, because lessons sound like something positive, in a way.”

Dr Themis Karaminis is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader BSc (Hons) Psychology at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 15th May 2020 by Themis which can be found here. @CogNeuroThemis

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Flattening the Acceptance Curve: Transitioning a more Inclusive World after COVID-19

The impact of lockdown on our daily life has been dramatic. We had to suddenly abandon our routines. Even those privileged with good health and steady employment have experienced severe disruptions. We had to undertake extraordinary tasks while socially-isolating, such as transitioning to online work and/or home-schooling. We have had to revise plans, goals, expectations. 

We have had to come to terms with omnipresent fluidity and uncertainty. We do not know if we are approaching the peak of the infamous curve we collectively aim to flatten or how the pandemic will unfold onwards. There is also a lot of uncertainty about the psychological, social, economic and political ramifications of this crisis.

As a result, most of us now show signs of fatigue. 

In the beginning, people might have recognised opportunities in this crisis – to slow down, reflect, spend more time with family, bond with their children, organise their households. As the crisis unfolds, however, we are accruing experiences of loneliness, boredom, tension in family relationships, failure in our home-schooling endeavours. 

But these effects are small in comparison to the potential long-term impact on those with disability.

How will the prolonged social isolation, and continuous exposure to uncertainty or health-risk messages affect mental health in vulnerable groups, such as children and adults with neurodevelopmental conditions? How will the compromised diagnostic, support and school services affect their wellbeing and learning outcomes? How could these effects be mitigated? There is an urgent need for widely available, effective interventions, tailored to the developmental and cognitive profiles and individual needs of vulnerable groups.

How will the employment prospects of individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions be affected in an anticipated era of recession? How could neuro-diverse individuals, who often struggle securing a job, be supported? Could the recent experience of extensive use of remote and flexible working patterns be applied to maintain and broaden so-called neurodiversity employment programmes? 

In these unusual times of unprecedented social isolation, we can learn a lot from marginalised groups, “the real experts of the lock-down”. For example, adaptations and strategies used by autistic people to deal with uncertain situations and address their sensory or social needs are useful to everyone struggling with their lockdown routines. Neuro-diverse people are also a fantastic community. 

In the UK, the autism community has advocated for and achieved the relaxation of lockdown rules for autistic people and other vulnerable groups. We all need to contribute to the collective flattening of the curve based on our strengths.

Adversities due the COVID-19 pandemic help us develop a better understanding of the life experiences and challenges of vulnerable groups. We should take the opportunity to transition to a more accepting, inclusive and sustainable world post-COVID-19.

Dr Themis Karaminis is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader BSc (Hons) Psychology at Edge Hill University.

Lockdown and Educational Inequality: Some Reflections

In 1970, Basil Bernstein famously wrote that education cannot compensate for society.

Bernstein may have been writing fifty years ago, but recent reports on the impact of school closures on disadvantaged children and young people resonate with his conclusions. Despite decades of government rhetoric about inclusion, the empirical reality of social inequality has been exposed by the pandemic. Elena Magrini (2020), describes the impact of school closures as a ‘learning loss’ that will likely have greatest impact on the most disadvantaged children. The result is a likely widening of the ‘education gap’.

To their credit, the government has responded to this educational crisis through a commitment to provide disadvantaged children with laptops, tablets and 4G routers. This is to be welcomed. However, the practical challenges of providing on line education raises some pressing additional questions about equality and inclusion in late modern societies.

In 1992 Gilles Deleuze wrote that social inclusion is determined by possession of the ‘Password’. Nikolas Rose (2004) developed these ideas in his work Powers of Freedom.  Rose draws attention to ‘circuits of inclusion’ which require constant proof of ‘legitimate identity’. Rose provides examples; computer readable passports, driving licenses with unique identification codes, social insurance numbers, bank cards. Each card provides the bearer with a virtual identity and access to certain privileges. Governments, employers, insurance companies and banks can all utilize databases to monitor individuals, provide or deny access to training, benefits or credit. To achieve an admissible existence in postmodern societies of control requires access to these circuits of inclusion, which leads us back to the issue of educational citizenship and access to educational inclusion in the lockdown.

The problem is summed up by Tom Middlehurst of the Schools, Students and Teachers Network (SSAT) in an interview for the Guardian where he states that,

‘The kinds of parents who will be having discussions and making the effort with home schooling are likely to be “middle class parents”

In other words, those that have the ‘digital’ capitals and the ‘passwords’ that provide access to computers, on line learning, reliable broadband provision and technological skill amongst other things. For young people and their families outside of these groups it is questionable if panicked provision of lap tops and routers will enable access to wider educational inclusion in a meaningful and enduring way. What is required is a sea change in policy that leads to universal, sustainable and equitable provision for learners and families. It shouldn’t take a national emergency to refocus debate on issues of social justice and educational inclusion.

Dr Francis Farrell is Senior Lecturer in Theology and Religion at Edge Hill University.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels