How The Pandemic is changing International Schools

I look forward to the AAIE (Association for the Advancement of International Education) briefing on Saturday mornings. The executive director Mark Ulfers and his team always have provocative articles to stimulate my thinking. This week’s article is from Foreign Affairs, a 2005 piece entitled “Preparing for the Next Pandemic” by Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert from the University of Minnesota. The article looks at the big picture of global pandemics. With the earth’s population at an all-time high, almost 8 billion, we should expect more zoonotic viruses, jumping from animals to humans and wreaking havoc. Thankfully the Covid-19 pandemic is not as deadly at the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, which killed 50-60 million people. However, it is a reminder that infectious disease is the biggest killer of humans.

The population explosion in China and other Asian countries has created an incredible mixing vessel for the virus. Consider this sobering information: the most recent influenza pandemic, of 1968-69, emerged in China, when its population was 790 million; today it is 1.3 billion. In 1968, the number of pigs in China was 5.2 million; today it is 508 million. The number of poultry in China in 1968 was 12.3 million; today it is 13 billion. Changes in other Asian countries are similar. Given these developments, as well as the exponential growth in foreign travel over the past 50 years, an influenza pandemic could be more devastating than ever before.

Osterholm, Michael “Preparing for the Next Pandemic, Foreign Affairs July/August 2005

At the time of the article, the SARS epidemic of 2003 was fresh. This was another virus originating in China from unhealthy conditions in animal markets. Osterholm’s observations of the negative psychological effects, the downturn in global travel and the economy, slow-acting governments, etc. are playing out 15 years later from Covid-19. His calls for preparing for the next pandemic went unheeded. Governments need to be prepared with stockpiles of PPE, research/development and production of vaccines and anti-viral drugs, etc.

Even if an H5N1 pandemic is a year away, the world must plan for the same problems with the same fervor. Major campaigns must be initiated to prepare the nonmedical and medical sectors. Pandemic planning must be on the agenda of every school board, manufacturing plant, investment firm, mortuary, state legislature, and food distributor in the United States and beyond. There is an urgent need to reassess the vulnerability of the global economy to ensure that surges in demand can be met. Critical health-care and consumer products and commodities must be stockpiled. Health professionals must learn how to better communicate risk and must be able to both provide the facts and acknowledge the unknowns to a frightened or panicked population.

Osterholm, Michael “Preparing for the Next Pandemic, Foreign Affairs July/August 2005

I think the long-term impact of this pandemic on education will be the use of online delivery of content as standard practice. The idea of engaging modules of precise learning objectives that students can access at anytime from anywhere will be present in all schools. It makes sense. Why design an engaging lecture or lesson plan, use it once for a class of 20 students and then it is gone forever. Teachers will be able to revise and improve their content over time. The flipped classroom will become the norm and class time can be devoted to discussion, assessment, sharing ideas, relationship-building, etc. It might be an exciting time in education. I also see what Scott Galloway is predicting, that big tech companies will be coming into education to really shake it up. I don’t think you can ever replace the human interaction and supervision that schools provide, but regarding content delivery, this will certainly change.

If I had the time and energy, I would love to lead the school in designing a couple of flagship online courses that could be taken by anyone. They would be focused on local resources that are unique to Tashkent. Perhaps an Islamic Art and Architecture course, or a Soviet history or the ecology of Aral Sea and Tian Shan Mountains. Other schools could join to create a network of online courses that would enrich school’s curriculum offering and make a more global, interconnected international school world.

During the pandemic, both AAIE and CEESA (Central and Eastern European Schools Association) have had weekly webinars, connecting leaders from schools all over the world. It has been some of the most rich professional development I received in my career in international education. This might be the opportunity to continue this and build upon it, having more collaboration between schools for faculty, administration and students.

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