Education Professionals and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Turning Crisis into New Opportunities
From Firenze University Press Journal: Rivista Italiana di Educazione Familiare — RIEF
Silvia Demozzi, Dipartimento di Scienze dell’Educazione Alma Mater Università di Bologna
Nicoletta Chieregato, University of Bologna
- The value of metamorphosis: Moving from a crisis to a change
The COVID-19 pandemic emergency was a symptom of a deep cri-sis, exceeding the health one: the crisis of the epistemological and socio-economic paradigms of modern society, which now have to deal with an increasingly uncertain scenario and are subject to a radical change (Fab-bri, 2019; Morin, 2020). Contini (2021) argues that «it was foreseeable, but we did not foresee it» (p. 9; our translation) because we thought that anything scary we could have foreseen would not have affected us closely anyway: «Drunkenness erased the sense of limitation intrinsic to the human condition and took with it the awareness of our finitude, re-spect for nature, and solidarity and devotion to other humans» (Ibidem; our translation).Those “uncomfortable” themes inherent to human existence (namely its finitude, its being fragile and breakable) suddenly emerged to the surface though and the impossibility of exercising control, whether col-lective or individual, over all variables interacting in a complex system (Bateson, 1972) was clearly revealed.However, following Brown’s reflections (2015), the recognition of the vulnerability intrinsic to human experience opens up the possibility of change. Such a possibility can be realised if subjects are also able to ac-cept the fear associated with change, both in the most intimate sphere and in the professional one. If the year 2020 was the year of trauma, the years to follow will be the ones of analysis on the consequences: it is up to us to transform the crisis into a chrysalis, to accomplish the process of metamorphosis for humanity. The crisis is a moment of discontinuity that inevitably forces us to evaluate, choose, and change (Fabbri, 2019). Why not then look at it as an opportunity? What if, at last, what seemed to be indisputable was now necessarily questioned? Could not a para-digm of thought, a model of life, an entire socio-economic system finally be challenged and deconstructed, renewed, and innovated?This paper deepens the possibility of looking at change as a chance for rebirth. Opposing a “given” destiny and searching for a “creative exit” is a gamble. Certainly, a courageous one, which does not trap sub-jects to the status of victims, but looks at them as protagonists of new narratives, even within their profession.
Leonard Mlodinow (2018) emphasises the importance of the ability to leave our reassuring certainties behind (which, perhaps, also includes the ability to “unlearn”), to accept contradictions and to exercise “flex-ible thinking”. Indeed, the importance of accepting and knowing how to experience uncertainty is a key step in the process of change. Uncer-tainty is valuable, not only because it is ineradicable but also because the chance of controlling all the variables of complexity is not given to humans, even if they have developed intelligence and can interact with machines (Morin, 1990). In the frame of the complexity paradigm, Simon maintains (1947) we have to deal with limited rationality. Based on the available information — which is inevitably fragmented and partial — and being able to con-sider only some of the possible consequences, human beings try to make satisfactory and sufficiently good choices, without ever being certain of having chosen the best one.However, it must be said that uncertainty is often linked to fear. In the words of Bauman (2006), “fear” is the term we choose to name our uncertainties. This reminds us that — when facing the need for change — fear is inevitable, but it is also the real driving force behind brave choic-es. Indeed, courage is not fearlessness tout court, but rather an exposure and risk-taking. Vulnerability and fragility characterise us, they are the «backbones» (Borgna, 2014, passim; our translation) of human exist-ence, inextricably linked to the environment in which we are embedded and to our fellow human beings. In Latin, the root of the word fragileis the same of the verb frangere (to break) and the noun fragmentum(fragment). Being aware of human fragility means facing the idea that humans might break and that we are all “pieces” of a more complex and interconnected whole (Malaguti, 2005). Nevertheless, Western cultures are inclined to favour the idea of fragility as a weakness and lack of solid-ity (Borgna, 2014).However, the possibility of change lies precisely in the recognition of our ontological fragility and the acceptance of risk-taking. The fear of change, as a matter of fact, can inhibit action, can lead to clinging, to seeking refuge in certainties (for example, in established professional practices that are considered valid “no matter what”). But it can also be experienced as the moment preceding the leap into emptiness, the ver-tigo before the desirable (or necessary) unpredictable course of action.We hereby view the crisis as an opportunity for change. Referencing the “crisis-chrysalis” binomial mentioned above, the crisis is a fracture: a breach in the armour of our comfort zone and of our “reassuring certainties”. For the chrysalis, indeed, it is precisely in the fracture of the shell (which protects and reassures) that the signal of the forthcoming metamorphosis (transformation) shows, making it ready to reveal itself and all its potential beauty. The discourse on crisis and change is of interest to us above all for the contexts of education and its professionals. All areas of education have been forced to cope with the pandemic emergency, and this has necessarily entailed breaking new ground, even reinventing established practices. The call, therefore, for those involved in education, is to be stimulated by a paradigm shift that the pandemic has brought along (Spiteri, 2021; Zhao, 2020).The COVID-19 emergency posed the problem of how to educate without the school facilities (ECEC services, schools, after-school ser-vices, etc.). This is a pedagogical and didactic challenge that has been ad-dressed and has confirmed a key point: the need for (formal) education is superior to any critical aspects that the public and academic debate has always raised about the educational system (Farné, 2020). So why, strengthened by this renewed certainty, can we not assume that the crisis represents an opportunity rather than just a deadlock?
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