BY NOW, schools are very busy preparing for the opening of classes. Some universities have already started their online summer sessions. There is no question as to the importance of education in society. As I have said before, we cannot stop classes and all activities related to education just because the vaccine is not yet available. Fear must not paralyze us from laying the foundations of our future.

Despite this position, I also believe that schools especially tertiary education, have a serious moral duty under the current setup. It is not enough that they just open everything back in where left. Business under the new normal is not “business as usual.” Schools have to make an honest assessment of what their role and obligations are in the charting of a future that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

An honest and real question that schools must answer is whether the things they are teaching are still relevant nowadays. This will lead to a more practical question of how schools should prepare students for the changing landscape of the market. This further means seriously reviewing all offerings and the kind of skills that are being taught in light of the reconfigurations that have been implemented for three months now. Given that there is no way for us to go back to the old setup, school owners and academic leaders should have the needed foresight to see things beyond their short-term needs.

I have been hearing many academic speakers and experts say “thinking in the new normal.” But sadly, the mentality of many has been stuck in the old. A radical embrace of this so-called "new" should push us to bravely give up a lot of things. For example, are we ready to reduce the number of minor subjects in college? This means no longer offering Rizal, Filipino, PE and other ancillary courses that have long been considered as a “burden” in the very ordinary sense of the world. It is not that we are getting less nationalistic but with the problems that we are facing, perhaps we should redirect our energies to other serious concerns.

Almost a month ago, the International Labor Organization (ILO) released the third edition of its monitoring titled “Covid-19 and the World of Work Updated Estimates and Analysis.” The data from ILO revealed that the most seriously affected jobs (high impact) by the pandemic and its consequent lockdowns are wholesale and retail trade, repairs, manufacturing, accommodation and food (hotels, resorts, and restaurants), real estate, business and administrative activities. Medium to high impact are the following: arts, entertainment and recreation, transport, storage and communication. And then affected at an ordinarily medium scale are construction, financial and insurance services, mining and quarrying.

We need not continue with the rest of the data. What should be clear by now is that no university nor school can claim the same privilege for the prestige that it had before the pandemic. A medical school, for example, that was well-known for producing board topnotchers cannot rest on its laurels. The greatness of a medical school in the face of Covid-19 would be measured in terms of how it would train future doctors who are not only knowledgeable but also resilient in other aspects of human relations. It is not enough to have postgraduate degrees in medicine that cannot be translated and related to the sound practice of management and leadership.

So here I am trying to weave an argument that will hopefully wake up educational institutions. What for are the courses that we are offering? What for, for example, are Liberal Arts courses today? Of course, we can cite all the philosophical classics as sources to formulate whatever profound defense we can muster but it is also undeniable that the said question is valid. If indeed, and as I also believe, that Liberal Arts courses are still important the point is, how should we train students so that they’d be prepared for a world that is in many ways different? And the same can be said with the rest of our offerings Accounting, Human Resource, Business Administration, and Engineering among others.

In the greater scheme of things, it is not even enough for schools to prepare their technology and curricular designs. They have to prepare themselves for more emerging questions that may even challenge their role and relevance in a society that is no longer the same under the new normal.