Social distancing could lead to a different perception of the "us".

Everyone counts: this is what this crisis teaches us

“You live and learn”, they say. No one has ever lived through a situation as the current Coronavirus pandemic, and so, we should probably all find something to learn from it. If each and every one of us takes time to reflect upon different philosophical questions, appreciate different aspects of our existence, and make a number of good resolutions for our lives after this lockdown, I hope that we will all learn one simple – yet powerful – message: in this world, everyone counts. Our EAEA Project Manager shares her reflections on the Coronavirus crisis.

From lockdown to self-awareness

This virus shows us, in a very tangible way, that what we do and the way we do it affects others and has a direct impact on our communities, cities, regions, countries, and planet.

If, in this period, by staying at home and wearing a mask, we can all save lives, imagine what we could do once the lockdown is over. Nobody can ever use the same excuse again for not voting, not recycling, not paying taxes, not donating to charities or volunteering. The infamous ‘drop in the ocean’ can become a contagious action, which will certainly have a positive effect on the social, ecological and economic environment.

I believe many of the people that break the confinement rules have still not realised how much power each of us can have. Perhaps they can’t fully make sense of the situation because if its enormity, and some might also lack adequate life skills (meaning not only health capabilities, but also personal and interpersonal capabilities[1]). If many people break the public measures taken to contain the spread of the virus, they are putting themselves and others in danger. In any case, however, they do have power – in both directions: either to accelerate the spread of the virus, or to stop it by adhering to certain rules.

From self-awareness to collective wisdom

The reason why we can all make a difference is because the virus itself is incredibly “democratic”. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or your position in society, whether you’re a resident, citizen or migrant, whether you went to university or not: everyone can be affected, and, at the same time, everyone can make a change.

If we add to these considerations the fact that we are all interconnected, entangled in our social networks even, we can really change the way we perceive ourselves. We are normally worried about who is not well in our families or circle of friends, but this virus teaches us that if someone is not well in the building, community, or city I live in, this matters to me as well, not least because this is a risk for my own health. It also shows that we are socially much closer to each other than we normally realise.

We desperately need each other and want to protect the ones we love, to get our lives back sooner than later, to avoid the collapse of our economy and institutions. And the ‘we’ can have multiple meanings, we – the people, we – the colleagues working for the same sector, we – the people living in the same country, we – the European countries, we – the world.

Recently, the Portuguese government decided to grant full citizenship rights[2] to migrants and asylum-seekers who had pending citizenship applications before the coronavirus outbreak. There is a new awareness of the “we” – who lives in the midst of our societies and whom we should care for. Debates on the conditions in prisons[3] in Italy go into the same direction, after riots took place because of a lack of preventive measures to contain outbreaks of the Coronavirus.

The healthier, wealthier (in a wider sense) and fairer this world is, the more I will be able to enjoy it. Perhaps this new “we” is a good basis for starting our lives after the lockdown.

From collective wisdom to a renewed sense of purpose

If we think of this as a unique opportunity to increase people’s awareness on the real power each of us has to change our societies for the better, and on the value that every human being brings to this world, I believe that more emphasis should be put on finding what is “the better”.

Awareness and collective wisdom are important, but not sufficient to improve our world. This is where adult education comes in. One of the most fundamental purposes of education (is) enabling people to become critical and creative co-shapers of society, capable of navigating a complex world that is facing unprecedented social and ecological crises[4].

What we need, in order to achieve this purpose of education, is change-oriented, transformative learning. According to Picon[5], this type of education aims at peaceful reforms to improve society or generate radical structural transformation, in contrast to types of education that contribute to the maintenance and conservation of the traditional social orders.

In the FutureLabAE project we define it as follows:

Change-oriented adult education encompasses an approach, philosophy and set of teaching and learning methods that seek to create individual and/or social change. Learners can also move beyond individual transformation to a collective empowerment based on critical awareness, new ways of thinking, and active participation. This model facilitates a process of conscious realization for learners as they work together taking action, including potential acts of resistance, towards a more democratic, equal and ethical world[6].

If you want to learn more about it, do not miss the first webinar of the online course we are about to launch (more information on the project website).

Let’s try to channel our self-awareness and collective wisdom that we developed in this lockdown into a renewed sense of purpose, together.

[1] Misleading perception of the situation, low level of critical thinking, disrespect of yourself and of the others, lack of empathy, incapacity to take care of yours and others’ wellbeing. More information on this can be found in the learning framework developed by the Life Skills for Europe project.



[4] Kirchgaesser, A. (2019b). Renewal from the margins – change-oriented adult education in do-it-yourself learning spaces. Paper presented in ESREA Triennial conference, September 19-22, 2019, Belgrade, Serbia.

[5] Picon, C. (1991). Adult education and popular education in the context of state and NGOs. Convergence, 24(1/2).

[6] Manninen, Sgier and Jetsu (2019), Change-oriented adult education in the fields of democracy and digitalization – drafted in the framework of the FutureLabAE project with the support of the whole consortium.

This article was published as part of a series on the impact of COVID-19 on adult education, and how adult education could help to mitigate the consequences of this global health, economic and social crisis.

Author: Francesca Operti, EAEA
Picture: Shutterstock

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