Global epidemics, pandemics and education in perspective (Part I)

Ebenezer ASHLEY (PhD)

Human existence, since time immemorial, has been plagued with epidemics and pandemics. These significant medical terminologies are often used interchangeably. However, they have distinct meanings. Explanations provided by Saunders-Hastings and Krewski (2016) aptly describe these terms. The authors noted, epidemics are driven by seasonal influenza strains, which result in local spikes in infection incidence; whereas pandemics refer to epidemics that spread across the globe. Thus, the term epidemic on one hand, is used to describe an infectious outbreak which occurs, and restricts itself to a given locality or jurisdiction such as a country.

On the other hand, the term pandemic describes an infectious outbreak which spreads beyond a given jurisdiction into another or other jurisdictions across the globe. Recall, the Coronavirus outbreak was first recorded in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province in the People’s Republic of China. Successful containment of the outbreak in China could be described as an epidemic. However, as the infection rate increases in leaps and bounds beyond the borders of China into other countries across the globe, the outbreak migrates from an epidemic to a pandemic. Stated differently, epidemic explains a “limited” infectious outbreak whereas pandemic describes a widespread infectious outbreak.

Narratives and statistics shared by medical historians revealed the earth planet has recorded quite a substantial number of epidemics and pandemics in prior and recent years. The influenza outbreaks in 412 BC and 1580 are notable examples. In 1729, an infectious outbreak which commenced as an epidemic in Russia later metamorphosed into a pandemic and spread quickly across Europe within six months; and across the globe in three years. High morbidity and mortality rates and multiple waves were recorded during the pandemic period.

A pandemic outbreak in China in 1781 spread through Europe and Russia over a period of eight months. The effect of the latter pandemic outbreak on the young adult population was dire. The world had another pandemic outbreak to contend with in 1830. The magnitude of this pandemic was comparable to the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918. The 1830 pandemic was believed to have originated from China and spread through Southeast Asia, Russia and Europe. By 1831, the pandemic had spread to North America. Low mortality rate was recorded during the 1830 pandemic outbreak; albeit it was wrought with significant rate of illness attacks (Saunders-Hastings and Krewski, 2016).

In 1889, another infectious outbreak was recorded in Russia. The outbreak which was initially detected as an epidemic later transformed into a pandemic and spread by rail and sea across North America and Europe. The range of the total case fatality rate was between 0.1% – 0.28% while the rate of spread was believed to be faster than the rate recorded in prior pandemic periods. The total number of human casualties was estimated at one million people. Some medical historians noted the rate of infection was indicative of the speed of spread of emergent diseases or ailments, owing to considerable progress in the area of transportation technology.

The following pandemics occurred over the last century: Spanish flu (1918 – 1920), Asian flu (1957 – 1958), Hong Kong flu (1968 – 1970) and Swine flu (2009 – 2010) (Saunders-Hastings and Krewski, 2016). More recent outbreaks include the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (2002 – 2003), Ebola (2014 – 2016) and Coronavirus (2019 – 2020). One of the highest if not the highest thus far fatality rate in human history was recorded during the Spanish flu outbreak. The case fatality rate recorded during the period was estimated at 2%. Gates (2020) noted the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and estimated its case fatality rate around 1%, which is lower than the 2% recorded between 1918 and 1920 during the Spanish flu pandemic, but higher than the fatality rate (0.6%) recorded during the Asian flu. Thus, Gates (2020) estimated the case fatality rate of COVID-19 (1%) to be between the respective case fatality rates recorded during the Spanish flu (2%) and Asian flu (0.6%).

A study conducted by Gates (2020) revealed two arguments why COVID-19 remained a threat to countries across the globe. First, the lives of adults with pre-existing conditions and healthy adults were at risk. Second, on average, an infected person could spread the virus to two or three other individuals; persons with mild illnesses or exhibit symptoms could spread the virus to others with relative ease. This implies the mode of transmitting the COVID-19 virus to others remained very efficient. Experts observed containment of the Coronavirus pandemic was more challenging than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) because the rate of spread of the former was exponential. The spread of SARS was facilitated by individuals with symptoms; and with less efficiency. The foregoing explanations affirm the relative potency of the novel Coronavirus. A brief comparative analysis of the same period revealed the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was about ten times the number recorded by SARS.

The occurrence of a novel pandemic across the globe was predicted early by Gronvall, Waldhorn and Henderson (2006). Gronvall et al. (2006) predicted the novel pandemic may be caused by bioterrorist attack, H5N1 avian influenza, unknown pathogen; or different influenza; and that, the occurrence of the novel pandemic was just a matter of time. Predictably, the global community succumbed to the Swine flu outbreak in 2009. This was barely three years after the prediction by Gronvall et al. The authors identified some challenges associated with scientists’ ability to work effectively on pandemic cases.

One of the greatest challenges saddled with scientists during pandemic outbreaks is how to ensure effective characterisation of pathogen and determination of its control measures. The revelation by Gronvall et al. was strongly supported by challenges confronted with scientists in determining the appropriate vaccine or vaccines for the novel Coronavirus pandemic, which continued to claim many lives across the globe. Nonetheless, the differences between pandemics and epidemics imply different scientific and political dimensions to addressing the challenges emanating thereof. These differences pose a significant threat to effective planning towards containment and prevention of further spread of epidemics and pandemics.

The existing literature suggests most of the pandemics recorded thus far across the globe trace their origin to Asia. As an example, some medical historians trace the origin of the Spanish flu, Asian flu, Hong Kong flu; and the novel COVID-19 to the People’s Republic of China. Available statistics indicated between 40 and 50 million lives were lost during the Spanish flu outbreak while the number of human casualties recorded in the Asian flu was estimated between 1 and 2 million.

The Hong Kong flu resulted in deaths of between 500,000 and 2 million people. However, the origin of the Swine flu was traced to Mexico in North America. The Swine flu claimed about 575,000 lives. The evidence suggests, so far, the Spanish flu has been more detrimental and catastrophic to human existence and survival than any other prior pandemic in medical history. Some medical experts described the Spanish flu as the “greatest medical holocaust in history” (Waring as cited in Saunders-Hastings and Krewski, 2016, pp. 2 & 3), owing to its magnitude and fatality rate.

Succinct explanation for the COVID-19 outbreak was provided by Reynolds and Weiss (2020c). The authors defined Coronaviruses as a large cluster of viruses known for infecting humans and animals. In the former, COVID-19 causes respiratory illnesses. These range from common cold to more serious infections or ailments. A member of the Coronavirus cluster known to have caused socio-economic havoc in recent years was the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

A virus which started as an epidemic in China during 2002 morphed into a pandemic affecting twenty-six countries; and resulting in over eight thousand confirmed cases and seven hundred and seventy-four deaths. Presently, dry cough and fever are the most common symptoms associated with the COVID-19 disease. Other symptoms include acute respiratory tract illness such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Outbreak of COVID-19

An epidemic outbreak called the Coronavirus was experienced in China during December 2019. The spread of the virus was believed to have initiated from a fish market in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province. Statistically, Wuhan City has an estimated population of sixty (60) million people. Therefore, it may not be difficult to fathom the size of the population that was immediately affected by the spread of the Coronavirus. Many members of the global community and actors readily counted on the technological exploits of China to be pivotal to her ability to douse the flames of the Coronavirus; and to prevent its further spread within and across borders. However, the early containment measures adapted and implemented by China proved ineffective as evidenced in further spread of the virus to greater Hubei; and to other provinces in China.

Health authorities in China identified a strain of Coronavirus that had never been encountered in humans before as the cause of the infections. This information was shared on 7th January, 2020 while genetic sequence of the identified virus was shared with the rest of the world by China on 12th January, 2020. The information on the genetic sequence was shared to enable health authorities in other jurisdictions develop their own diagnostic kits to contain and prevent further spread (Reynolds & Weiss, 2020c). Evidence to the latter was apparent in series of confirmed reports of COVID-19 infections by health professionals in many countries and territories across the globe (Reynolds & Weiss, 2020b).

Information on the novel Coronavirus was officially conveyed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) by China on 31st December, 2019. After preliminary laboratory tests, the World Health Organisation confirmed the virus’ ability to cause respiratory illness in a group of people. The official confirmation from WHO was announced on 21st January, 2020 (Elsevier, 2020). During the same period, human-to-human transmission of the Coronavirus disease was confirmed by the World Health Organisation. On 11th February, 2020, WHO officially named the Coronavirus, COVID-19 and identified the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 or Sars-CoV-2 as the virus that caused the disease (Reynolds & Weiss, 2020a, para. 6).

Extant medical laboratory research affirmed, generally, human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 was common. Therefore, a common belief among health experts was the first group of persons who were infected had contact with animals. Apparently, the fish market in Wuhan is noted for illegal trading in wild animals such as birds, marmots, snakes, rabbits and bats. The foregoing remained the contention although some medical researchers maintained animal source of transmission to humans remained a puzzle. A research paper released by a team of virologists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology revealed a commonality in the genetic makeup of COVID-19 and the Coronavirus found in bats. Further, the research revealed the genetic makeup of the former is ninety-six per cent (96%) identical to that of the latter (Reynolds & Weiss, 2020b).

In another development, a research conducted and published in March 2020 established similarity in the genetic sequences of human coronavirus and the coronavirus in pangolins. The similarity was estimated between 88.5% and 92.4%. Reynolds and Weiss (2020b) noted some earlier confirmed cases of the novel Coronavirus were not linked to the Wuhan fish market. This implied some human infections might have been recorded prior to the Wuhan fish market catastrophe. The Wuhan market was shut down for inspection and cleaning on 1st January, 2020. The authorities’ decision was intended to avert possible spread of the Coronavirus outbreak.

However, as at the time of inspection and cleaning, it appeared the virus had spread beyond the market thereby straining any efforts to limit its spread to the Wuhan fish market (Reynolds & Weiss, 2020b). In the early stages of the pandemic outbreak during 2020, some countries offered to evacuate their respective nationals voluntarily from China. Notable among these included Belgium, Spain, Iran and Italy. These countries resolved to quarantine their respective nationals who arrived from China for fourteen days. The rationale was to ensure early detection of symptoms, confirmation of active cases; and prevention of further spread of the virus in their respective jurisdictions.

Nonetheless, countries that offered early evacuation from China had difficulties with early detection and treatment due to the elusive nature of COVID-19. The quarantine measures instituted by these countries were expected to contain and prevent spread of the novel COVID-19. Contrary to expectations, the evacuations escalated spread of COVID-19 across borders; and new cases were speedily confirmed in Italy, Iran, South Korea and Spain; and in many other countries around the world.

Sooner than later, the novel COVID-19 which surfaced as an epidemic in China had morphed into a global pandemic. Immediate vaccines for cure of the virus were not available. As a result, countries and territories with reported cases and potential ones were impelled to improve on their preparedness and responsiveness; while ensuring strict enforcement of non-pharmaceutical measures, including cancellation of mass gatherings, regular hand washing, social and physical distancing and schools’ closures, among others.

Notwithstanding the tremendous efforts by China to curb further spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, the overwhelming impact on Hubei Province was frightful. Generally, sporadic spread of pandemics is occasioned by two major factors: the time or serial interval and reproduction number (World Economic Forum, 2020, para. 7). The time interval relates to the time it takes the virus to spread whereas the reproduction number refers to quantity. Specifically, reproduction refers to the estimated number of confirmed cases and infections.

The average serial interval for COVID-19 was believed to be four days. This implies COVID-19 spreads geometrically around the world; it suggests the pace of spread of the pandemic is very fast. Given the speed of spread of the virus, experts believed possible containment and prevention may be a challenge. Record cases in the United States, India, Brazil, Russia, Colombia, Spain and Argentina, to mention a few, lent credence to the foregoing assertion. Adaption of aggressive measures by various countries to curb further spread while ensuring containment was imminent. This corroborated Saunders-Hastings and Krewski (2016), Gronvall et al., Malik, Mahjour and Alwan (2014), Malik and Mahjour (2016) who found extended serial interval for early pandemics, but short for recent outbreaks; and predicted imminent outbreaks in the near and distant future.

Professor Myers and her team (as cited in World Economic Forum, 2020) examined more than four hundred and fifty reported cases drawn from ninety-three (93) cities in China. The team’s examinations confirmed asymptomatic spreading of COVID-19. That is, persons with no symptoms had the potential to spread the virus. The test results revealed more than one of ten (10) confirmed cases in China was transmitted from asymptomatic patients or persons. It was believed that results from the specimens tested by Meyers and her team could douse earlier scepticism about the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic through asymptomatic transmission.

Further, the results were expected to enhance containment measures by infected countries and territories around the globe. Meyers (as cited in World Economic Forum, 2020) affirmed the inevitable role of extensive non-pharmaceutical interventions such as cancellation of mass gatherings, restrictions on travels, quarantine, isolation and school closures in the fight against spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Meyers (as cited in World Economic Forum, 2020) emphasised increasing case counts and silent transmission were consistent with asymptomatic transmission of the Coronavirus in many countries and territories throughout the world. She concluded, the probable elusiveness of COVID-19 affirmed the need for global economies to adapt extreme measures to contain and prevent further spread.

The World Economic Forum (2020) chronicled a set of reasons for the exponential spread of COVID-19 across borders. Notable among these included the infection of asymptomatic patients, and their potential spread to others. That is, the likelihood that persons with no traits of the virus would be infected; and they in turn would transmit to others benignly. As stated earlier, results from laboratory tests conducted by Meyers and her team (as cited in World Economic Forum, 2020) showed asymptomatic infection accounts for one of ten reported Coronavirus cases.

Results compiled from tests conducted during the pandemic outbreak in 2020 revealed the average serial interval for transmission of COVID-19 from one person to another was less than a week; it was about four days. Prior studies showed an average of fourteen-day transmission period. Further, more than ten per cent (10%) of individuals become infected from persons with the virus and yet, were asymptomatic. That is, they did not show signs of symptoms of the Coronavirus. Some experts believed COVID-19 could be likened to flu; they based their argument on the ominous nature of the virus.

The Problem

Prior information on the outbreak of the Coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, at Wuhan City in the Hubei Province in China was greeted with scepticism by nationals, non-nationals and leaders of many developed, emerging; and developing countries around the world. Many leaders of global countries welcomed the news of the exponential impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on their respective economies; and on the entire world with disbelief.

True to prior predictions by the World Health Organisation, the world continued to witness and record surging numbers of reported cases, deaths, recoveries and active cases, among other major determining variables of analysis on COVID-19. Consequently, the world continued to struggle in its quest to find a medical antidote to the pandemic during the outbreak in 2020. Medical laboratory tests conducted in some countries across the globe were yet to provide the requisite medical solution or prescription for the outbreak during the latter part of 2020 and early part of 2021.

The stir caused and socio-economic impact of the pandemic on global education cannot be underestimated. Recall, an outbreak which commenced in China as an epidemic sporadically penetrated a significant number of countries and territories throughout the world. As at 20th March, 2020, China had the highest number of reported cases (80,967); followed by Italy (41,035), Iran (18,407) and Spain (18,077) respectively. Thus, the People’s Republic of China remained the epicentre of COVID-19 during the period.

However, as at 25th June, 2020, the narratives had changed considerably; the United States of America had become the epicentre of COVID-19 with total reported cases of 2,463,923; followed by Brazil (1,193,609), Russia (613,994), India (474,587), United Kingdom (306,862) and Spain (294,166). The total number of reported cases in the United States constituted about 25.76% of the total number of reported cases across the globe (9,565,546) during the period. Correspondingly, the United States recorded the highest number of deaths (124,308), representing about 25.29% of total deaths (485,690) reported around the world during the period. Significant death tolls were recorded by Brazil (53,895), United Kingdom (43,081), Italy (34,644) and Spain (28,327) during the period (Worldometer, 2020b).

The respective total number of confirmed cases, deaths, recoveries, active and critical cases across the globe on 20th March, 2020 were 246,107; 10,049; 88,483; 147,575; and 7,389. The number of countries and territories increased from 177 to 182 during the period. However, the story was significantly different on 29th March, 2020: the respective total number of confirmed cases, deaths, recoveries, active and critical cases across the globe surged to 678,910; 31,771; 146,339; 500,800; and 25,377.

The respective data recorded during the period (29th March, 2020) were 181.97%; 219.21%; 68.81%; 247.46%; and 253.19% higher than those recorded earlier on 19th March, 2020. The significant increase in the total number of reported cases (about 181.97%) and deaths (about 219.21%) in less than two weeks (from 19th to 29th March, 2020) raised concerns about the world’s preparedness to curb further spread of the pandemic. It also raised major concerns about the safety of learners, instructors and administrative staff in academic institutions at various levels during the period.

Due to the increase in awareness and campaign on the importance of formal education in many countries and territories, school enrolment rates have increased considerably in advanced; and in many emerging and developing economies across the globe. Thus, the total learners-to-total population ratio of many countries has improved significantly in recent years. Even if school children were found to be asymptomatic, the probability of these children transmitting the virus to their respective instructors, siblings, parents, grandparents, guardians and caregivers remained very high. This raised questions about the possible effect of continued schools’ openings during the COVID-19 outbreak, on further spread.

As of mid-March 2020, the impact of COVID-19 on academic systems and structures became apparent, impelling closures of learning institutions at various levels across the globe. Available statistics affirmed as at 23rd March, 2020 more than 1.3 billion learners were no longer academically active following closures of academic institutions in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak. The school closures affected more than half of the global learners’ population in more than one hundred countries during the period. The potency of the Coronavirus placed older persons and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions at risk.

As a result, learners in their teens and twenties who were potentially asymptomatic stood the chance of spreading the virus to older persons; and persons with pre-existing conditions that they may come into contact with. The imminent question was: how prepared and responsive were individual countries and territories across the globe to the COVID-19 outbreak to prevent its further spread; and to minimise its overwhelming impact on academic activities in their respective economies; and across the globe?

The general management problem is the failure of some global leaders to pick early warning signals to facilitate immediate identification, development and implementation of the requisite medical and security measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak; and to curb its threats to academic systems of economies around the world. Available statistics indicate the respective learners’ populations of economies such as China (including Hong Kong and Macao) (275,436,085), United States (55,100,000), Mexico (37,589,611), Egypt (26,071,893) and Ethiopia (24,686,497), among many others, were adversely impacted by the initial school closures.

Collectively, they constituted a significant portion of the learners’ population globally. Given the valuable role of economies such as China and the United States in global technological advancements, early detection and solution to the outbreak in these countries would have been vital and complementary to global containment efforts; and pivotal to the avoidance of widespread school closures across the globe. Though evidence of the phenomenon exists, there were no empirical studies to establish, clearly, the impact of outbreaks such as COVID-19 on educational programmes and activities across the globe.

The specific management problem is the inability of international bodies such as the World Health Organisation and economies like China to draw on their respective medical personnel and technological sophistry to detect early to prevent degeneration of the epidemic into pandemic. Other specific management problems include inability of less-endowed economies to acquire and install state-of-the-art medical equipment to assure effective treatment of infected and potential COVID-19 patients; and the inability of medical experts across the globe to develop quickly the type of vaccine or vaccines needed to cure infected patients; prevent further spread of the pandemic; and to assure non-interruption in educational activities and programmes across the globe. On the basis of the foregoing, the writer deemed imperative to examine how the COVID-19 pandemic could disrupt educational activities and programmes in countries and territories across the globe.

Theoretical Dimension

The academic luminary, Herbert Spencer, who lived from 27th April, 1820 to 8th December, 1903 remains one of the doyens of sociological development and advancement across the globe. The seminal works of Herbert Spencer included the theory of social evolution. This is arguably his most significant contribution to the field of sociology. Thus, Spencerism is believed to be nucleated around the law of evolution or the evolutionary doctrine (Coser as cited in Priya, n.d.). The following chronological publications added to Herbert Spencer’s contribution to the field of sociology: The proper sphere of government (1843); Social Statics (1851); and the Social Organism (1860) (Offer, 2019).

Indeed, Herbert Spencer’s contribution to the sociological field was not limited to the foregoing publications. As noted elsewhere, his social evolutionary theory is pivoted around two sub-protagonist themes: biological evolution and physical evolution. The phrase, “Survival of the fittest,” was first coined and introduced by Herbert Spencer (New World Encyclopedia, 2017). This phrase later formed the basis of Charles Darwin, the naturalist’s popularity, following his publication in 1859 entitled On the Origin of Species (Offer, 2019). The underlying principle of Spencer’s biological evolution posits, in ever-changing environment or circumstances, it is only creatures or humans who demonstrate finesse, agility; and are able to make effective adjustments with relative ease, that would be assured of survival in their persistent struggle for existence.

However, for the purpose of this publication, we would emphasise on physical evolution. The underlying concepts of physical evolution hypothesise, societal activities are characterised by movement from homogeneous to heterogeneous; and from simple to complex arrangements. The emphasis on heterogeneity is borne out of the instability inherent in homogeneous social settings. Generally, physical evolution emphasises a paradigm shift from indefinite and incoherent social arrangements to definite and coherent social settings (Priya, n.d.). Spencer (as cited in Priya, n.d.) argued, evolution occurs when motion is dissipated paving way for the integration of matter.

During the foregoing process, matter is believed to transition from a state of incoherent and indefinite homogeneous environment to coherent and definite heterogeneous settings. The eventual motion that is sustained and retained is subject to a parallel transformation. Spencer (as cited in Priya, n.d.) shared, all occurrences in the world have causal relationships; and could be traced to two underlying factors. He believed these factors form part of the theory of force and include motion and matter.

Spencer (as cited in Priya, n.d.) advanced three basic laws and four secondary propositions within the context of universal evolution. These include the law pertaining to persistence of force, law of indestructibility of matter; and the law of continuity of motion. In the first law, Spencer (as cited in Priya, n.d.) averred, force or energy is not increased during the process of evolution. This means force or energy always persists. The persistence of force makes it very influential in evolution; force is the main cause or driver of evolution. However, it is not affected by the process of evolution.

The second law asserts, matter cannot be destroyed. Matter has been identified as an aspect of energy that could seldom be destroyed. Stated differently, it is difficult to destroy matter, though it may be susceptible to formal transformations. The modifications that are witnessed in the shape of matter account for the evolutionary process it undergoes. The foregoing notwithstanding, the elementary nature of matter remains intact; and not susceptible to any changes.

The fundamental elements of energy and matter found in the world are not created; neither are they destroyed. Rather, these elements are preserved. The third law argues, motion is continuous and never dissipated in whole; albeit some transformations occur in the form of motion. This law emphasises on stages in the process of evolution; and asserts all things in the world continue in motion. Thus, the globe is characterised by motion in perpetuity.

The four secondary propositions postulated by Spencer (as cited in Priya, n.d.) were couched as follows: relationship between identified forces is persistent; social arrangements are characterised by formal changes and uniformity; there are greatest attractions and least resistance; and there prevails gradual motion. The basic principle underlying the first proposition is the harmonious relationship among all laws. That is, it is imperative for a harmonious relationship to be established among all laws of evolution in the world; contradiction should not be observed between two laws; defined phenomena must share uniform and regular relationships; and the world must comprise an order of elements.

The second proposition affirms the need for changes to be formal and uniform; and that, matter and motion are not utterly destroyed in the evolution process, they only subject themselves to some changes in form. However, the amount of motion and matter is not affected by the formal change; it remains intact; the rudiments of matter, motion and force are not lost during the change process. Rather, they are transformed and reappear in the form of other events.

In the third proposition, Spencer (as cited in Priya, n.d.) noted, evolution is always directed towards the lines of greatest attractions and least resistance; and that, all elements and forces prefer to navigate along the lines of greatest attractions and least resistance. This proposition resonates with the popular maxim which states, “the animal prefers to prey on friendly grounds; and not on hostile ones.” To wit, evolutions of force and matter characterised by challenges may be rejected. Instead, the evolution would be redirected towards paths of greatest attraction (joy) and minimal resistance (peace).

The fourth proposition underscores the significance of motion in evolution; and the need for the motion to be gradual. This proposition does not support the call for motion to remain at the same level at all times; motion may occur at a fast or slow pace. The movement of development and duration among natural phenomena occurs at different rates; and based on varying rhythms. Spencer (as cited in Priya, n.d.) asserted, it is self-evident that all parts of the universe; be it social or non-social, organic or inorganic, ascribe to natural evolutionary laws.

Spencer (as cited in Priya, n.d.) was of the firm conviction the identified phenomena of nature, including the sociological and psychological processes of individual experiences, phenomena of the earth and terrestrial, development of species; and biological organisms, amongst others, ascribe to specific pattern of transformation. Increasing differentiation and diversity is set into motion once society begins to witness diversity and differentiation. The increase in differentiation and diversity is cumulative.

The diversity society witnesses feed on itself and over time creates room for increased complexity. Spencer (as cited in Priya, n.d.) observed, the pool of different units into an aggregate creates room for specialisation. This allows parts that are different to respond to stimuli differently; and those that are similar to respond in the same way. Further, all natural phenomena pursue an adjustment process until a moving equilibrium is attained. Finally, human evolution is subject to dissolution. That is, the evolution process is reversed at a point in time; and all phenomena succumb to this process.

Relevance of the Theory

Today, the pace of evolution among some societies across the globe is very rapid while others tarry in the process. There are societies today that have evolved significantly and are pace setters in the global quest for socio-economic transformation through improved educational systems. This category of societies finds expression in Spencer’s (as cited in Priya, n.d.) definition of complex society. Examples of social communities in this group are the advanced economies.

Conversely, there are societies today that are deeply-rooted in Spencer’s (as cited in Priya, n.d.) definition of simple society with little socio-economic progress; and remote, in terms of migration to the complex evolutionary level. Examples in this category are poor or least developed economies. However, many developing and most emerging economies are inching close to the complex evolutionary level.

As society evolves and population increases, the globe is saddled with a major phenomenon that ostensibly holds the key to current and future civilisation. That is, the provision of quality, accessible, affordable and uninterrupted education. However, social evolution coupled with increased environmental challenges such as the occurrence of pandemics undermines the realisation of set educational objectives in many societies across the globe. As Spencer (as cited in Priya, n.d.) noted, the process of transformation from simple to complex evolutionary systems should have minimal effect on matter and motion, two important factors of force. Stated differently, it behoves modern or complex societies to ensure natural occurrences such as epidemics and pandemics have little or no adverse effect on planned educational programmes and activities across the globe.

Pandemics and Median Duration of School Closures

An empirical study conducted by Markel, Lipman, Navarro, Sloan, Michalsen, Stern et al. (2007) among forty-three (43) cities in the United States to ascertain their response to the Spanish flu pandemic revealed median duration of school closures during the period was four (4) weeks; school closures reduced morbidity rate from the Asian flu outbreak of 1957 through 1958 by about 90% (Chin, Foley, Doto, Gravelle & Weston, 1960); while the effect of school closures on morbidity reduction during the 2004 through 2008 influenza outbreak in the United States was estimated at 50% (Wheeler, Erhart & Jehn, 2010). However, the magnitude and speed of spread of the foregoing pandemics do not compare with those of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the median duration of school closures during the current pandemic outbreak may differ.

Another pandemic that ravaged the global economy and disrupted educational activities was the Swine flu recorded from 2009 to 2010. Extant research (Simon, 2020; Kawano & Kakehashi, 2015; NIH, 2011) revealed economies that implemented school closures as part of their non-pharmaceutical interventions were able to mitigate the spread of infections. The peak of the Swine flu pandemic in the United States was delayed due to decisions to close down schools early. Overall, the success rate of school closures in the United States during the period was found to be high although the reaction to school closures at the district level in Michigan was found to be ineffective.

At the peak of the Swine flu pandemic outbreak, decision by authorities in Oita, Japan, to close down schools decreased the overall number of infected students in the city; albeit the decrease in rate of infection among students was found to be insignificant. The foregoing notwithstanding, transmission rates of influenza were reduced in the range 29% – 37% following strict implementation of the physical distancing orders and school closures.

Scientists in the United Kingdom (UK) found closure of schools during the Swine flu outbreak in the country as appropriate for several reasons. These included interruption in the course of the infection; slowing widespread of the pandemic; and having ample time for research and eventual production of requisite vaccine or vaccines for effective cure of the pandemic. The scientists drew on experiences from prior studies on pandemics (Spanish flu of 1918 through 1920; Asian flu of 1957 through 1958; and Hong Kong flu of 1968 through 1970) to examine the dynamics of spread of pandemics during school holidays in France.

The research outcomes revealed a positive relationship between school closures and lower reported cases; the number of confirmed cases increased when schools re-opened in the midst of the pandemic. The findings further revealed, during the flu season (1999-2000) in Israel, teachers embarked on a strike action. This helped to reduce visits to doctors by more than one-fifth (1/5); and reduced respiratory infections by more than two-fifths (2/5) (Murray, 2009; Walsh, 2009).

Rana (2020) discussed strategic ways in which key stakeholders could plan to ensure equity among the global learning population during the period of school closures emanating from the COVID-19 pandemic. Rana (2020) argued, daily activities of children help them to maintain strong immune systems. Further, school closures could have psychological effects on learners, especially students at the 12th grade level who were due for graduation. Due to the foregoing, Rana (2020) believed schools across the globe should have remained open, irrespective of the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic; and urged various countries to adapt the Taiwanese functional model, which included allowing people to go about their normal lives and activities without closing down schools and stalls in Taiwan.

However, Onkpar (2020) thought otherwise. The author believed any attempt to restore academic activities in various jurisdictions should commence at the tertiary level where learners are presumed to be mature enough to observe and implement the preventive measures and protocols outlined to curb further spread of the pandemic. Onkpar (2020) noted, the ability of tertiary-level learners to individually and collectively act in consonance with preventive protocols could not be doubted; and the success rate may be high. Subsequently, the rate of success of the implementation at the tertiary level would inform gradual extension to include learners at the secondary, primary and pre-primary levels.

Author’s Note

The above write-up was extracted from an earlier publication titled: “Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Global Education” by Ashley (2022) in the International Journal of Business and Management.

The writer is a Chartered Economist/Business Consultant.



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