I am happy to be here with you today, even though it has to be virtually through our videoconference system, in order to respect social distancing guidelines. I would like to congratulate you for the welcome idea to organise a debate on the topic of the educational and healthcare management of the COVID-19 crisis. This conference also comes at a very significant moment, as we near the end of 2020 and we are faced with a new wave of cases – foreseen, for the most part – and I strongly believe the time has come for a reckoning. Not a negative reckoning, of the number of victims or of daily cases, but rather a reckoning of hope, in which to focus on what we have learned thus far from our experiences over the past eight months, and what we must do from now onward.
I am thrilled with your choice to focus our discussion on two themes very dear to my heart: the educational and healthcare system in the context of our struggle against the COVID-19 virus. The extent to which the pandemic has affected these two systems has shown us all that they require sustained efforts in order to survive, efforts aimed not solely at improving systemic performance and resilience, but also our own humanity.
Faced with an avalanche of new cases, even the world’s most sophisticated healthcare systems gave in. Insufficient medical equipment to help an ever-increasing number of critical cases has led, in some cases, to terrible decisions needing to be taken. Forced by awful circumstances, doctors had to choose between treating patients with greater chances of survival and entrusting into the hands of the Lord those with preexisting conditions associated with a greater risk of death. Even without the necessary equipment, sufficient staff numbers and adequate working conditions, doctors have tried their utmost to respect the oath they had taken and fulfill their calling to save lives. We have much to learn from their experiences. It is imperative that, from now on, we focus our efforts on improving healthcare infrastructure, not only with regard to treatment but also prevention. And we must further capitalize upon the human capital in the field – doctors are not only miracle workers in the face of Pestilence and Death, but also, in turn, vulnerable people. The pandemic raised this particular alarm when even our saviours began to fall victim to the pandemic.
In March 2020, the Romanian educational system was moved online, as was the case in many other countries across the world as a measure to prevent the pandemic’s spread. Knowing the limitations of the existing system, I was skeptical at online learning’s potential for success; yet I hoped it would only prove a short-term solution. Unfortunately, the global emergency was extended and, despite several timid attempts to return to normal schooling, education has remained stranded online. This transposition of the educational process online raised the significant question of the transmission of knowledge. How might we adapt the system in such a way that children understand? The solutions we found are in the process of verification and stress testing. Yet, even more important that the knowledge we aim to impart, the pandemic has demonstrated that the educational process involves more than conveying mere information. It involves emotions, experiences, sentiments. In attending school or university, our children learn how to become social individuals, how to help others, how to work as a team, how to empathize with others in need. They learn how to be friends, how to laugh and rejoice, how to play and experiment. The pandemic has helped us discover that everything we do, including the classical educational process (irrespective of its syncopations) is, in reality, a cherished life experience. We need capable and updated educational systems in order to train the specialists that will help us in the future. Yet we also need education to be able to understand that this race against the virus is a race to save our moral values, our kindness and our solidarity.
The pandemic has also provided another important lesson. It has shown us that the very systems, procedures and knowledge we used to rely so much on, in reality matter much less than we had thought. What does matter is that we are able to experience life, and that we learn to live, each day, again. From now on, this is how we must act. We will need to learn to live our lives, day after day; learn, then, how to be human before being specialists.
In conclusion, I wish to draw your attention to a project the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization launched in the spring of this year, titled The World Post-COVID-19 Pandemic. A Humanist Vision for Sustainable Development. The project aims to offer a multidisciplinary anticipation of the future, bringing together – both digitally and in a physical collected volume – the opinions, ideas and recommendations on how our world might look like at a time when the pandemic will have been defeated of notable specialists in various fields of activity – economics, education, healthcare, ecology, the arts, the sciences, technology, human rights etc., alongside representatives of the academic environment and former heads of state and of government. The project’s aim is to create a platform for open debate in order to identify those solutions that are most amenable to the gradual reconstruction of our world and of our various fields of activity, all of which have been sorely tested over the past months. I cordially invite you to access the project’s online platform and, if you so wish, submit your own contributions to the ongoing discussion should you wish.