[OPINION] A few possible benefits of the coronavirus outbreak

Von Katindoy
[OPINION] A few possible benefits of the coronavirus outbreak
'I realized that online learning is not exactly a worst case scenario'


Two to 3. That’s the average number of students in each of my 4 classes this semester who have opted to wear face masks since the COVID-19 outbreak in China. The number has held steady even if the numbers I read about on CNN, Al Jazeera, Rappler and the Inquirer have not. As I write this, CNN reports that the number of cases outside mainland China continues to grow, including in South Korea where a US soldier has tested positive for the (corona)virus.” 

Other countries which are grappling with confirmed coronavirus cases, according to Al Jazeera, include Afghanistan, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bahrain, Cambodia, Canada, Croatia, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nepal, Oman, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam. (READ: WHO warns of pandemic risk after virus peaks in China)

Of the 610 patients in the Philippines probed by the DOH, Rappler reports that only 3 were confirmed to have contracted the virus. Despite the thankfully low number of confirmed coronavirus cases in our country, there is a breaking development that should make both our public and private sectors review their risk response plans.

Four days ago, the Inquirer reported that more than 60 international sports events were either postponed or canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Tokyo International Marathon for which I have been training for the past 4 months was unfortunately one of these. The Hong Kong Marathon, the Nagoya Women’s Marathon, and the Nagoya City Marathon suffered the same fate. Even the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is now at risk as The Guardian reported yesterday that “a senior member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)  said outright cancellation of the Games, rather than postponement or relocation would be likely if the disease proved too dangerous for the event.” (READ: Events around the world affected by novel coronavirus outbreak)

It is against this backdrop that I have been advising my students to prepare for the worst scenario. To wit: stay home and attend classes online.

There was a time when I was skeptical about the viability of learning online. I used to work for a multinational which put a lot of premium on lifelong learning – hence, its investment in a global leader in massive open online courses (MOOC). Despite the free access, the extensive range of available courses and the incentives offered, we never achieved critical mass in terms of enrolment. The usual reasons offered were that the employees just did not have the time, as it was competing with their BAUs and stretch assignments and work-life balance considerations. The leadership guru Simon Sinek offers a more compelling reason: we should have connected more strongly to the why behind online learning before progressing to the how and offering the what. 

The insight on the importance of a why augurs well with my recent experiences of successfully completing online courses. Awed by the wonders of pursuing mindfulness as a way of life, I joined a class of 30 from different parts of the globe to listen and learn for 8 weeks from a certified meditation practitioner based in the University of Massachusetts. Enthused by the game-changing impact of simulated exams, I signed up with the Project Management PrepCast based in California for 3 months at 2 hours a week. Intrigued by the number of companies that have embraced design thinking, I signed up for a self-paced 4-day video-based training on facilitating design sprints through a provider based in Berlin. 

At around the same time, the Ateneo de Manila Institute for the Science and Art of Learning and Teaching (SALT) serendipitously offered a pilot run of Education Technology, more popularly referred to as EdTech. Through 3 face-to-face meetings and 2 online sessions capped by 3 course requirements, I did not only learn about over a dozen EdTech apps, most of which I now happily use in my 4 classes, but more importantly, I discovered that the 6 learning types (i.e., acquisition, inquiry, discussion, practice, collaboration and production) comprising Diana Laurillard’s pedagogic theory could actually be used to design and conduct a class online. More to the point, I realized that online learning is not exactly a worst case scenario. Indeed, if done right, it could actually be a high impact alternative to face-to-face learning.  

A year ago, I wrote about exploring the feasibility of online learning, telecommuting, and migrating to the suburbs as long-term solutions to our daily carmageddon. The COVID-19 outbreak may have just given our public and private sectors an even more compelling reason to take a long hard look at leveraging the power of the internet, albeit this time around  to contain the spread of the virus before Metro Manila becomes another Wuhan.

Come to think of it, if our internet providers can get their act together, not only will such an arrangement solve our daily carmageddon, but fewer cars, motorcycles, and buses transporting students and employees would translate to lower fossil fuel consumption. This, in turn, could provide our environment with a much-needed and long-delayed breather from the carbon rampage of industrialization. 

Two to 3. That might just be the average number of dramatic benefits that the COVID-19 outbreak in China could lead to. The poet Marci Ridlon once wrote: The same wind that blows down your house shakes berries from the bushes.” Here’s to hoping the COVID-19 outbreak could shake berries from the bushes without blowing our house down. – Rappler.com

Von Katindoy teaches philosophy at Ateneo De Manila University and does project management work for UBQTY, Inc.

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