Monday, 31 August 2020

Education during a pandemic: Lessons from history.

Education during a pandemic: Lessons from history. Throughout the history of humankind, pandemics have come and gone. And in the era of modern history, the precautionary measures taken to prevent the spread of diseases are similar to what governments have done in 2020. Education and schools have always been a key element in stopping or further spreading a disease, but we have surely come a long way since then.

Universities had to develop escape plans for students when the Black Death hit Europe in the 14th century and killed half of its population. Oxford University, still a relatively new institution at the time, stopped lectures and sent students and educators away to the countryside. And when new waves hit the university, Oxford students put together informal escape plans to flee the town while countryside manors became official gathering places for displaced students.

Wearing face masks became mandatory for students in schools and universities when the Spanish Flu spread around the world taking the lives of 50 mn people in 1918. And when masks could not stop the spread of the disease, entire universities were put under quarantine and healthy students volunteered to help the sick.

When vaccinations became available, they were made mandatory. In the 20th century, many colleges required vaccinations before coming to campus. When a smallpox outbreak hit Vancouver in 1928, the University of British Columbia avoided the epidemic thanks to its large population of vaccinated students.

While the precautionary measures taken today are remarkably similar, we have come a long way. Current technology allowed students to stay connected with their schools and teachers and even took tests online. This has proven successful to the extent that this hybrid education scheme is becoming the new normal. When waves of diseases hit cities in the past, schools had to shut down entirely and students had to stay busy with chores instead of homework.

The effects of a pandemic can be revolutionary: In medieval Europe the bubonic plague resulted in the quality of education falling and the destruction of five of the continent’s universities. Interestingly though, it actually catalyzed an increase in long-term enrollment in UK universities after the outbreak had ended. A surge in interest in theology paved the way for an ‘education renaissance’ that enabled new ideas of humanism to emerge that would change the course of history.


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