Reopening the Country - Part IV
Freedom Speaks Column
Over the next two years or until and appropriate vaccine or cure is found, the world will have to live with COVID-19. Hence to minimize the human and economic impact of the disease, there will be need for the adequate management of the disease. Management tools will include: ongoing testing for the disease and related protocols on contact tracing, isolation and treatment; adequate capacity for treating persons who may be infected with COVID-19 and experience severe symptoms; a sustained focus on proper hygiene; maintaining appropriately adjusted physical distancing protocols; encouraging better nutrition; and adequate protocols on travel across borders. We discussed these tools in the last three articles.
For over a decade now, information and communications technology have revolutionized the way in which people work, communicate, learn, recreate and interact. While the digital revolution had already changed the world, the sudden need for countries to put in put in place physical distancing protocols to slow the spread COVID-19 jolted the world to more fully embrace the existing communication technology, especially those technologies that substituted for face- to-face interaction. Such technology, among others, includes those that facilitate online ordering, bill payment online, online meetings, and the delivery of education instructions. Alongside the use of these new technologies, traditional interaction arrangements continued to exist. The removal of the face-to-face option as a result of the physical distancing measures or as a result of the reduced appeal of face -to -face contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, has meant that many more persons have been driven to use online communications options than would have otherwise occurred. The situation caused many to become familiar with the online options and their positive experiences increases their trust of that option.
Our experience in Dominica is not very different from that of other middle-income and high-income countries. For instance, a few of our schools were already using online platforms to communicate with their students and they were already planning to intensify the use of communications technology in their delivery of education instructions. Some schools had not yet started that journey. But the closure of schools as one of the measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19, has resulted in schools fully embracing the delivery of instruction online or seeking to do so as soon as possible – something that perhaps would not have otherwise happened any time soon. Once the direct threat of the spread of the new coronavirus is considered manageable enough to reopen schools for face-to -face instructions, that option may still be embraced for its social, cultural, psychological and practical value; however, it is clear that much more or the delivery of education will be done online given the jolt the system has received in that direction.
Moreover, the experience has demonstrated the value of online delivery of education as a resilience tool. There is great value therefore in ensuring that all schools have the capacity to deliver most, if not all, of their curriculum online, given future risk for the disruption of the face-to -face delivery of education instructions, be it due to future epidemics or pandemics or other natural disasters including hurricanes. Moreover, there is the opportunity to review the cost of the delivery of education in the context of the ways in which increased use of online delivery of education can potentially reduce cost. But clearly, the experience should have also led policy makers to understand the challenges that would have to be overcome to make the online delivery of education a robust resilient tool and to potentially deliver lower cost of education delivery. For instance, there is need for adequate internet access to all residence with adequate clarity and speed of communications at cost to users that are not prohibitive.
Beyond education, the pandemic has demonstrated the benefits for using technology to reduce cost in a number of ways. Increase ability of workers to work from home, made possible by the use of existing technology including audio and visual communications platforms such as ZOOM, has implications for cost to employers – such as reduced need for physical space, but also benefits workers through lower cost of travelling to work and the elimination of commuting time.
Among other areas, increased use of online ordering or the online payment of bills saves consumers time and cost, while many organizations and groups have utilized online meeting platforms. To the extent that users, customers, workers and employers have been jolted into the above new options to work and interact, and to the extent they deem these adequately beneficial, they may wish to continue to use them even after the risks associated with COVID-19 has passed. Dominican enterprises and organizations should actively seek to utilize these new opportunities as others elsewhere in the world would be doing so and to the extent that we do not keep up with the widely available technology and ways of doing things, we will lose international competitiveness.
Dominica Freedom Party.