On 6 October 2021, NORRAG organised the launch event for the sixth edition of NORRAG Special Issue (NSI) “States of Emergency: Education in the Time of COVID-19.” NSI 06 seeks to conceptualise the multiple emergencies brought about by COVID-19, which presents the world not only with a biological and health emergency but also a political, economic and social emergency intertwined. Read in its entirety, this NORRAG Special Issue highlights the ways in which these emergencies in education are interconnected.
The event commenced with introductory remarks from the three co-editors of NSI 06: Moses Oketch, a Professor at UCL Institute of Education in the UK, Will Brehm, an Associate Professor at the UCL Institute of Education, and Elaine Unterhalter, a Professor at UCL Institute of Education.
Moses Oketch discussed his journey learning from different perspectives and contexts on the impact of COVID-19 on education. The initial idea for this NORRAG Special Issue grew out of a blog series entitled Education in the Time of COVID-19 started in April 2020 by the UCL Centre for Education and International Development (CEID), of which Professors Oktech and Unherhalter are the co-directors. The topic was further developed through a webinar held in September 2020 and a NORRAG KIX EAP webinar held in April 2021 entitled “What has COVID-19 done to education and research?”, which featured some of the authors who contributed to the NORRAG Special Issue. To conclude, Prof Oketch described the fulfillment working on NSI 06 which contains 29 articles authored by 66 contributors. Moses also thanked his fellow co-editors and NORRAG for their contributions.
Will Brehm began with a quote from French philosopher Blaise Pascal: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s [sic] inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Will Brehm discussed the paradox presented by COVID-19 of showing respect for others by staying inside and social distancing, while also feeling lonely and isolated. He went on to highlight the inequalities that have been brought about and worsened by COVID-19, especially for those who needed to continue going to work and could not afford to stay at home during lockdown. NSI 06 attempts to show how COVID-19 impacted everyone, as well as new and innovative ways for collecting data and communicating with each other.
Elaine Unterhalter argued that three distinctive aspects of NSI 06 differentiated it from the many other publications on similar topics. First, she stated that NSI 06 uses a wide range of methods and includes diverse voices which contribute a range of perspectives, combating methodological localism. Secondly, NSI 06 goes beyond the headline issue of inequality and shows the complexity of multiple states of emergency. Lastly, she added that NSI 06 especially engages in dialogue and tries to acknowledge complexity of its topics.
Following the introductions and insights from the co-editors, the authors of the six key pieces introducing the different themes of NSI 06 gave a summary of the concepts and findings discussed in each part: Inequalities, Technology, States, Progress, Affect, and Nature.
Part 1 Inequalities was presented by Frances Stewart, Professor Emeritus, University of Oxford, UK. She presented the findings of her study on COVID-19 school closures and inequalities, and the consequences of 80 percent of children being shut out from education. She found that COVID-19 worsened inequalities between and within countries, due to reasons such as unequal access to internet and online learning technologies, higher poverty rates forcing children to have to work, and inequalities in parents’ abilities to support their children’s learning.
Part 2 Technology was presented by Ulrike Rivett, Professor, Department of Information Systems, University of Cape Town, South Africa. She reflected on the previous 18 months and how technology has become an increasingly prominent part of our lives. This has worsened inequalities pertaining to education. Ulrike discussed the impact of technology and studying from home on the teacher-learner relationship, drawing the conclusion that we must reflect deeply on the role of technology for marginalised groups such as refugees and asylum seekers, and inequalities in technology access due to COVID-19.
Part 3 States was presented by Adam Habib, Professor and Director School of Oriental and African Studies London, UK. He discussed how the idea of states has been reconfigured during the pandemic, and the need for institutional capacity and capabilities in education. As COVID-19 is a global problem, he stated that we need to ensure teachers, doctors, nurses, and civil society contribute to a global solution. He additionally discussed how we can reimagine higher education and examine what it does for human capacity as a result of the pandemic.
Part 4 Progress was presented by Keita Takayama, Professor, Graduate School of Education, Kyoto University, Japan. He focussed on the concept and notion of time and how it can pertain to teaching and research. As a result of COVID-19, he said, all of his previous commitments such as meetings, deadlines, interviews, and conferences were rendered inconsequential, which created a “lost” feeling. The pandemic has allowed us to participate more in the immediacy of the moment, which can and should have an impact on how online teaching is done, and how teaching should be done moving forward: with a greater and deeper reflection on the concept of time.
Part 5 Affect was presented by Irving Epstein, Professor Emeritus of Peace and Social Justice, Illinois Wesleyan University, USA. He began by proposing questions as to which aspects of COVID-19 will not be captured or appreciated, as well as how to best connect the educational experience with the broader social experience we experienced during the pandemic. He proposed a solution to tackling these questions by looking at three aspects of affect theory. The first aspect looks at the intensities of encounter, and examines the changes in our intensities of encounter due to the shrinkage of public space, as well as the mixed social roles of teachers, students, and caregivers due to the pandemic. The second aspect is the idea of making meaning, and the importance of trying to make sense of our interactions during the pandemic, including the questioning of both scientific and institutional authority. The last aspect is the idea of acknowledging and working within the constraints of contingency: contingency is a permanent feature of existence, as well as the increasing amount of our circumstances that are out of our control.
Part 6 Nature was presented by Iveta Silova, Professor, Arizona State University, USA. She called for more international cooperation and immediate action on the climate crisis, and outlined some lessons we can learn from the pandemic for dealing with the climate crisis. Culture is an integral part of solutions to major crises, and our survival depends on our ability to make a cultural shift. Education, she stated, is the most effective way to bring society closer to the needed cultural shift, but culture and nature are often not given priority in the current education system.
The event concluded with a Q&A with the audience hosted by NORRAG Executive Director Dr Moira V. Faul.