The international conference on Perspectives on the post-pandemic was held online between May 12 and 14, 2021. The event was organised by the World Academy of Art and Science, through its members from Latin America: Danielle Sandi-Pinheiro, Heitor Gurgulino de Souza, Saulo Casali Bahia, Neantro Saavedra-Rivano, Heron Gordilho and Joanillo Rodolpho Teixeira.
The conference was structured across broad themes, with panels of experts discussing the future of each in the post-pandemic world throughout the three days of the event. The topics discussed included Legislation, Democracy and Society, Education, Science and Innovation, Economics and Development, Environment and Health, while the exchanges of ideas sought to identify solutions that might be implemented in the future in order to ensure society’s return to the pre-pandemic normal, as well as safeguarding the viability of solutions identified during the pandemic, for the near future.
At the event, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization was represented by the President of its Scientific Council, Professor Emil Constantinescu, who took the floor during the panel on Education, Science and Innovation, as well as by Dr. Oana Brânda, during the panel on Legislation, Democracy and Society. The conference is part of the scientific efforts undertaken by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization in its international project, The World post-COVID-19: A Humanist Vision for Sustainable Development.
Present during the panel on education, president Emil Constantinescu argued in favour of sustained efforts for the speediest return to the pre-pandemic normal in education – one of the hardest-hit sectors by the pandemic, but also one of the most affected by regulations mandating social distancing. According to president Constantinescu, the academic milieu must call upon post-pandemic reconstruction efforts both at the educational and the societal level: “Any true university is a pillar of democratic society, as long as reason, pluralism and tolerance are the values on which it established its own intellectual pursuits. One thing is certain: the relative success of states in the global competition will not be primarily determined by the degree of heavy exploitation of natural resources, but by the degree of well-educated human resources”.
During the discussion stage of the panel, president Constantinescu took the opportunity to present the Institute’s project, The University beyond Walls, on which the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization is collaborating with the University of Bucharest, the University of Agricultural Sciences in Timișoara and 28 local mayorships in activities undertaken in the Hațeg Country Dinosaur Geopark. The University beyond Walls project is coordinated by Professor Dan Grigorescu, the Institute’s Scientific Director.
President of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization
The University will play a central role in society’s post-pandemic reconstruction
My intervention will be focused on the role of higher education in a post-pandemic society.We have all been invited today to discuss perspectives on the post-pandemic world, and more precisely, post-pandemic perspectives in the field of education, research and innovation. I have spent all of my adult life in the academic milieu, and I believe that one of the solutions for the come back to some form of normalcy, resides in the hands of education. Thus, the University will play a central role in the reconstruction of the post-pandemic society. Even before the appearance of this virus, the University as an educational entity was confronted with several structural problems, including contestation from its very members. Democracy has generated today policies that have led to an unprecedented expansion of education as a system, and also to anarchical protests against the expanding system.
It is common for any educational process to face certain resistance from its beneficiaries. Today’s manifest hostility towards the University, as we are witnessing it, may reside in the contestation of the inadequacy of the educational system to the realities of contemporary society. This is all the more evident today, when education was moved online to be able to preserve physical distance and protect those involved directly in the educational process – students and professors, but also their families.
When faced with such crises, we must reinvent the school so that it will know how to preserve itself and use its passionate interest for exploration of new knowledge. It must be a school that transforms every child’s passion for stories into an ability to use adequate words. It must be a school that puts in service of the didactic process all the childhood colorful fantasies, and the explosive inventiveness of adolescence. Briefly, it is about a school that focuses on the joy of learning. Such a school integrates and does not compete with the almost infinite information, which means that today’s society is developing fast. We will have to reinvent the school so that it will not exclude, but include. The biggest effort necessary to reinvent the school radically is not one involving economic effort, but one concerning intellectual effort.
In no global vision, which can create sparks when we address political, social or economic issues, should the University be left apart. It plays an essential role in shaping the future we aspire for, a future which cannot be separated from education and knowledge. Modern university has the merit of taking the confrontation of opinions and the freedom of speech outside its walls, of making them enter the human consciousness and behavior. It has the merit of proposing a certain way of treating human relationships to the society, but also that of approaching knowledge.
Knowledge is a unique resource, never exhausted, but, on the contrary, increased both by use and by sharing. I have supported the idea of looking at modern knowledge as a territory of synergies where each domain of research functions as a broth culture, a nourishing medium for the other domains of knowledge: history for the sciences of the Earth as well as geology for history, classics for physics, and ethics for biology or vice-versa. Knowledge should never be reduced to technologies, research and development. It includes fundamental sciences, humanities, social sciences and education - all forming the culture of knowledge. Modern knowledge cannot and should not be reduced to a technical compilation and use of information. Bare information opens a way to massification, whereas knowledge stimulates the harmonious development of responsible individualities. There is no other antidote against de-humanization but an individual capacity for building information into knowledge. In addition to that, one must not forget that the democratization of knowledge is the basic component of the progress of civilizations.
Education costs. There is no doubt – the most profitable investment is one made in the educational system, but under an essential condition: that financing should not just increase, but should also be correctly used. Not to restrain the democratic basis of academic institutions and communities, nor their contribution to the democratic development of society. It is concerning a great part of the humanistic sciences, particularly those situated beyond the acute up to date characteristics - to which are often subjected projections regarding the educational system and research - which are less and less supported in the study and financing programs. The history of civilizations, the languages of the old documents, the rare languages, and the history of philosophy may become, in today’s society, more and more endangered knowledge species.
A new danger for Universities – one that we must all be aware of, is their ranking based on specific criteria, in an effort to fit all universities, on a global level, into a tight pattern. These rankings, be they American or European, evaluate universities in 5 different fields: reputation in research, quality of teaching and learning, international orientation, the success of knowledge transfer (for example, partnerships with enterprises) and contribution to regional development. It is to be expected that this will offer students and institutions a clearer image of the university performances and will help them choose the University best suitable for them.
However, when speaking about universities, ignoring traditions, experience, as well as the relationship with national environment could lead to more serious consequences, as this approach affects not only diversity, but creativity in the end. Creativity is the basis of the new knowledge society.
All the more, any true university is a pillar of democratic society, so long as reason, pluralism and tolerance are values underlying its intellectual approach. It is a certain fact that states’ success in the global competition will not be primarily determined by the intensive use of natural resources, but by their level of well-educated human resources.
Dr. Oana Brânda
Project Manager for the World post-COVID-19: A Humanist Vision for a Sustainable Development project of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization
The post-pandemic world from the perspective of International Relations
There are 7 steps for recovery in the post-pandemic world. First of all, we need to build confidence in institutions, not just national institutions (but we need to work nationally as well), but also international institutions like the World Health Organization and the United Nations. And going back to a national level, the very institutions that put in force mechanisms to mitigate the losses.
We also need to build early warning mechanisms. Such mechanisms exist in south-east Asian countries, where this kind of respiratory syndromes are frequent. We have them in Singapore, we have them in South Korea, we need to put them in place also in our countries, because this kind of syndromes, this kind of diseases are no longer affecting remote areas of the world. They have the power, because of the fast circulation of people, to move quickly and affect everyone.
Also, we need to establish resources for threat management. We need to have a direct connection between them, to have resources allotted to different kinds of threats and we need to bring pandemics further up in the degree of threats, because I was looking back at my country’s former security strategy, and we have pandemics recorded there, but they are not recorded as threats. They are somewhere between vulnerabilities and risks, they are more likely vulnerabilities. This was the situation before COVID-19. Now we have to move them up to the major threats.
We need to make data-based decisions, because we need to act according to the situation on the ground. We need not focus on “this might happen” or “this might not happen”, we need to have patterns of response based on the data provided, the data collected on the situation at hand.
We need to accelerate technological support, because we have seen how important technology has been in this kind of crisis. It helped us overcome many, many difficulties. We need to focus on technology because it is a major factor of support. It cannot replace human interaction, it cannot replace human activity, but it can help mitigate loss, it can help overcome the difficulties, and of course, it will help us recover, in the end.
Also, we need to have public -private cooperation. The private sector has many more resources, less procedures, and less bureaucracy than the public sector. We need to have an intertwined cooperation between them, so that in case of such crises the private sector can jump to the help of the public sector. Of course, if there is enough will in that regard, but as we have seen in the United States, they had a Production Act enforced which somehow forced the private sector to collaborate with the public sector.
Finally, and the most important, build resilience. Resilience, resilience, resilience. This has become the poster child, the emblem name of the covid-19 pandemic, because resilience speaks about an entity’s capacity to bounce back from a situation that destroyed and affected the initial state. This is the most important in the post-pandemic world. The world has recovered from previous pandemics, they went on, they survived, and they did it because people and state entities were resilient. It is not only us that need to be resilient, but also institutions, governmental institutions all over the world, both nationally and international institutions need to look resilient and build on their capacity to recover from this kind of situation.