The desi variant of regulation has many unique characteristics, namely observing the format even if the content sounds silly.

The last six months have seen exponential growth in the use of internet-enabled platforms for communication purposes. More webinars have been, perhaps, held per week than were seminars held per month, in each of the preceding years, with any month being taken as an example. This is understandable because after the initial severity of the lockdown began wearing off and the overenthusiasm of regulations without back-ups created its own long-term damages, gradually a greater sense of realism became a part of the scene. Dealing with a pandemic where — at the best — mitigation was the only strategy (and inexorable personal disaster a real possibility), there was little option but to allow life to begin limping towards the so-called “new normal.” If in the process infection multiplied and unmanageable risks erupted, it was a price which could not be avoided.

The eateries started opening up and public transport was back on the wheels. Those who could not do without air travel went back to flying. The standards were more of a lip-service, than being implemented seriously. Reports had it that two twin airports, called “sister airports” and managed by identical agencies, manpower and serviced by identical airlines, at least on September 10, offered two diametrically opposite scenes. Long queues at Jammu airport, more organised systems at the Srinagar airport. At the Jammu airport, people were reconciled to standing shoulder to shoulder. If in the process they contracted or passed on the virus, how could it be helped? The system wanted to know personal details, including the mobile number. How could one know whether this was a genuine mobile number?

The Indian variant of regulation has many unique characteristics, namely the form must be observed even if the content sounds silly. This is truly an understandable approach because the circumstances demanded that procedures be shown to be observed. Once in a while somebody talks of increasing medical literacy in the extension mode and somebody else notches up a point by talking of public healthcare systems. Once in a while, somebody even talks of some modifications in the medical education curriculum. Truly speaking, nothing much seems to have been seriously attempted. At the time of writing this column, guidelines were being issued for re-opening of higher educational institutions: “Staggering of classroom activities to be done with separate time slots to allow for adequate physical distancing and disinfection of classroom premises…and so on.” It has been directed that a distance of six feet would be observed between desks. It is mandated that academic scheduling should have an intermix of regular classroom teaching and online teaching and assessments. What has been missing is a back-up calculation to assess how many square metres of space does an average educational institution have? The smugness of powers that be is touching. It is duly leavened by people willing to sing praises to it in the hope of some compensating privileges coming their way. The guideline document is a delight to read: “Institutions conducting skill or entrepreneurship training, higher educational institutions conducting doctoral courses and postgraduate studies shall specifically ensure online and distance learning….’’ The document even goes on to suggest the “utilisation of any outdoor space by relocating equipment outside like in veranda, courtyard, shed and so on.” This kind of wisdom eludes comment.

The truth of the situation is, in the absence of any standards of prevention, in a verifiable sense, one cannot sense what the future would look like. The efforts seem to measure up only to a format. It is little wonder then that on September 9, India had the highest number of cases in a single day of any country on this planet. The official response was swift, pointing to “the low percentages of fatalities.” This debate should not even have begun. In reality, no real teaching has begun in many places. There is much drumming up of the “hybrid approach” but the contents of the curriculum have not even been touched.

Education as a domain is not a fallow field where anyone can walk all over with command and confidence. It is management of an expert system and the identification of genuine experts in sufficient numbers to plan, develop and execute is an important pre-requisite. The powers that be claim that the education policy had comments from over two lakh individuals. This is fabulous. Who were the core group of people — with what expertise — to screen their reactions? Nevertheless a good aspirational document has emerged. What is now required is its conversion to an operational level. A rebirth is possible provided the envisioning is clear and process issues clarified.