It came. It spread. It conquered.
Ever since Wuhan reported its patient zero for the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in November, 2019, the world has not been able to heave a sigh of relief. The virus has penetrated and continues to penetrate into receptacles of almost every country you can name – the burden being distributed asymmetrically. The streets have been deserted, flights and trains have been suspended, companies have come to a standstill, and the common man has been trapped inside the four walls of his own house – for a period of time that even the highest authorities are unable to state. Quarantine and social distancing have taken the role of those uninvited guests in our day-to-day life, who barge inside without a knock. Hygiene and sanitisation practices have taken birth as a new religion, while people all around are going frenzy over immunity boosting techniques. As healthcare and pharma giants worldwide struggle to find a potential cure, SMEs and start-ups are also joining forces and working round-the-clock amid this invisible battle – or rather microscopically-visible battle. Albeit, keeping the possibility of mass commercial availability of a viable vaccine at bay, let us break down and scrutinise the consequences of this pandemic on businesses – sector by sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected educational systems worldwide, leading to the near-total closures of schools, universities, and colleges. As of May 18, 2020, approximately 1.725 billion learners are currently affected due to school closures in response to the pandemic. According to UNICEF monitoring, 156 countries have currently implementing nationwide closures and 29 are implementing local closures, impacting about 98.5 per cent of the world’s student population. This is the first time in global history after World War II that such a magnanimous proportion of educational institutions have to close down. As a result, teachers and students enter a new world of virtual lectures and worksheets as the lockdown brought about by the coronavirus shuts down in-person lectures. Tens of thousands of students in cities and towns are glued to computers and smartphone screens as teachers take to online apps for lectures, tutorials, and assessments. This experiment is a complete new experience for both students and teachers alike. Many professors who didn’t have any technological knowledge till now, have adapted to circumstances and happily acquired a life skill of e-teaching. They are establishing innovative techniques during the online classes such as fun games and interactive activities to break the monotony keeping students engaged. Some institutions have adopted the Zoom app, others Google Classroom. Others use WhatsApp to send, receive, and evaluate assessments on a daily, weekly, or a fortnightly basis. Yet, there are many barricades to this kind of methodology – the instructors are unable to say how effective they are, and how every student is tuning in. Moreover, not all students might have laptops, tablets, computers, smartphones, data pack, or WiFi connections at home. And, even if they have, the only laptop or computer in the house might be used by the parents who are working from home. Most of the subjects are also very practical and hands on, so it’s difficult to teach from a distance.
In India, this closure took place in March-end, when students nationwide were either preparing for their final exams, or were half-way through their papers. Maharashtra state school education minister Varsha Gaikwad announced that the Social Science Paper 2 Geography exam, which was the last paper in the series of the SSC board exams to be held on March 23, had to be cancelled. CBSE too cancelled the last examination for CBSE class 10 for the entire country. NIOS, CISCE, ICSE, and ISC boards too followed. A student said, “We will have to study again for one exam. We will have to wait till next month as we do not know when the exam will be conducted.” Right now, the last paper of the SSC exam is proposed to be rescheduled to June 8 where as CBSE from July 1 to 15. Apart from class 10 and 12, all the exams of both the government and the private colleges, universities, schools (from Class I to VIII) as well as all entrance tests have been cancelled by the country. JEE has been postponed to July 18 to 23, NEET to July 26, MHT-CET to July 4 to August 5, and BITSAT, NATA, CLAT, MAT, etc. until further notice.
Another area of concern where the pandemic has hit a massive blow, is of the prospective students who were planning higher studies abroad in this year as well as those students who are going to graduate this year. Thousands of youngsters, who’d already submitted applications or who’d already received admits from their desired universities, and were going forward with loan applications and visa applications, have landed in a deep abyss of uncertainty. With a ban on international travel and revised immigration guidelines, students fear trudging forward with their higher education plans. A number of candidates have deferred their university admits a year forward, while a handful have terminated their plans permanently. However, a majority of the students still chose to opt for the ‘first semester online’ provided by foreign universities, in lieu of wasting an academic year. While some universities in the UK have promised inviting students as early as October-November, even after that, the picture of a corona-free world, and thus, a risk-free education, appears gloomy; at least for a year or two. On the other hands, for the grads of 2020, it has been a tensed situation as they are unable to land a permanent job post their degree with the corporate sector under lockdown. Depending on country to country, students get three to six month-window post graduation to secure a job; and students right now fear that the window may expire sans a job in hand. Repayment of surplus loans taken back in their home country is something that is causing tremors to them. All in all, the academic sector worldwide has undergone catastrophic transformations and is facing numerous challenges, whose long-term solutions are still being chased.