Mangaluru, September 26, 2020: Coronavirus pandemic has posed the biggest challenge in history to the survival of economy and business globally. Mangalore Today spoke to leading lights of business and industry to analyse the situation and gain their unique perspectives on the way back to recovery and growth. Excerpts from the Interview with Prof. S. S. Bosco, Executive Trustee, Boscoss Education Trust:
How do you assess the Covid-19 pandemic impact on business, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SME)?
Covid pandemic has a major impact on every business but it is more pronounced in the MSME sector. MSME sector employs the largest population in India outside agriculture but it is facing challenges on multiple fronts due to this pandemic. More than half of businesses have seen either a permanent closure or a temporary halt in operations, almost all businesses are expecting lower revenues and significant losses. Even the recovery of demand is not expected to come to pre-Covid levels in 2020. Due to these factors, MSMEs are looking at cash flow shortage in near and medium terms. The second order effect of this situation would be inability of MSMEs to pay their workers and subsequent layoffs and pay cuts. Some of these job losses would be permanent and workers would lose their means of livelihood. Government should immediately focus on saving MSMEs from this existential crisis by focusing on better credit access, extend loan moratorium and support for workers’ livelihood till the demand returns to normal.
What are the challenges faced by the educational institutions and how are you coping with the situation? Is online education a solution?
Education sector faced an immediate challenge when the government decided on closure of educational institutes on March 16. There are 320 million young learners in India who are impacted and which is at the forefront of the Covid debate but there should be awareness and focus on challenges faced by educational institutions as well. Lack of access to the internet at students level as only 42% urban households have internet access in India, and lack of internet devices at school like tablets, stylus pens and broadcasting equipment poses a major challenge to create a learning environment. More than this, our education system is based on centuries old chalk and talk style of pedagogy which is not possible anymore. So, to tackle these issues we have ensured availability of internet devices to our teachers and we have made our learning platform possible from a mobile device for students. We shared the best practices of online learning among our students and teachers as well to improve the learning experience. To maintain the attention and focus during online learning, we have defined new rules of online classroom, like videos to be switched on etc. which have helped to bridge the gap of physical presence. We are using zoom to conduct virtual classes but we have also adopted WhatsApp for clarifying doubts and assignments.
Online learning is surely a new medium which is gaining traction in this Covid world but I don’t believe that it is ready to replace the physical classrooms yet. There are still gaps in how to gauge the engagement and understanding of classes like video classrooms, issues related to truancy and overall adoption of technology on part of teachers and students. But it is surely to stay and we should embrace it, learn it and try to improve it.
What is your advice to Students and Parents?
To the students I would like to remind them:
* To be honest with themselves
* To create a timetable for themselves and stick to it
* To remind them their love and importance of learning
* Focus on personal health and mental health apart from studies as well
To the parents, I know its extra tough on them but few things can make it easier:
* Stay in touch and on top of it. Be aware how schools are communicating with parents and check-in frequently with your kids. Make sure you read all communications.
* Connect with school staff. Talk to your child’s teachers and other staff about progress and your concerns about studies.
* Change your expectations. You need to be realistic about the expectations of your child’s accomplishment while they are remote learning.
* Give children independence but make sure you set the boundaries and hold them accountable to the limits.
* Talk to them and be a good listener as they are scared and anxious about the future as well.
How can we survive the crisis brought by the Covid-19 pandemic (in general)? What are the steps you advise people to overcome hurdles?
This is a pandemic at a scale which has not been seen on this planet for the past 100 years. When a calamity of this magnitude strikes, we need to accept it and change ourselves in order to survive. This pandemic is not going to go away easily and it wouldn’t go away on its own. It will be a collective effort which will defeat this virus and we need to do our part as well.
Take care of health and safety, make sure you are taking appropriate steps to keep everyone around us safe. Wearing a mask and taking care of basic hygiene are bare minimum steps to avoid Covid. Additionally, spend some time doing exercise or yoga to keep yourself fit.
Mental health should be prioritized as well. Being locked in houses, working remotely and not interacting with people, these are not normal states for us humans and they can cause extreme anxiety and depression. We should make some time for mental well being by reading, yoga or pursuing some hobby to relieve the day’s stress.
Focus on the present. These are unprecedented times and all our previous plans are out of the window. We need to acknowledge this and also appreciate what we have today - our work, our family and our friends. This will help us to come out together and rebuild our dreams of the future. This is just a minor setback in our journey.
Be prudent on finances. There is no better time than now to be thrifty. Reconsider you budget and spending areas. Focus on what is essential and what is luxury which can be postponed. Support others. This pandemic has left a lot of people vulnerable and they need our support. Watch out for your family and friends. Look out for people in our community who are at the margins and invisible. We need to take care of such people in our community. Donate food, money to the needy. Support local businesses first. This will go a long way to rebuild our local communities.