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Germany consults humanities scholars to fight the pandemic and lockdown: A lesson for policy makers and educationists worldwide

15 May, 2020

What can be called the first instance of ‘online education’, in which Theodor Adorno, a key philosopher of 20th century, was frequent to Berlin’s radio station for delivering lectures, including a famous series on ‘Education after Auschwitz’ soon after the devastation of World War II and Nazi rule. Repeating the history to fight Covid-19, now the academics of humanities have joined the fray, as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel considered the sociologists, ethicists and historians of science more competent to advise her on the ‘delicate ethical balancing act of reopening society while safeguarding the health of the public.’ How did this help Germany as one of the leading fighters against Covid-19? What implication does it hold for the governments and policy makers on education at large?

In fact, the expert committee of 26, formed by the federal government of Germany after reopening of some sectors of the economy- mainly the small shops and allowed some schools to hold classes, had only a few natural scientists and virologists. Most of the scholars came from Leopoldina, the Academy of Sciences established in 1652 that included historians of industrialisation, philosophers, and experts of law. Notwithstanding the conservative virologists vouch for harsher lockdown, many from the committee including Jürgen Renn, director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, argued for a synchronised approach which needs a comprehensive understanding of various angles.

The devastation caused by reckless urbanisation, opined by Professor Renn, has endangered all species and ecological balance. Therefore, the post-corona development mode must ensure sustainable greener development, opined the Ethic’s Council, composed of theologians, philosophers, and jurists. According to a report published by We Forum, “the group’s education specialists raised fears that school closures meant that children from poor families would fall further behind their wealthy peers; jurists wondered if restrictions on basic freedoms were legitimate; and ethicists and philosophers stressed that stopping the spread of the coronavirus would depend far more on public willingness to fall in line with moral norms than any coercive state action, he explained.”

What is Germany’s rationale behind engaging humanities scholars in such a large number, almost against the trend even in Europe? The government of North Rhine- Westphelia, which is one of the most populous state of Germany, engaged a world known figure on Immanuel Kant, Otfried Höffe to ask “difficult questions that might otherwise be overlooked”. For example, there is a “danger” that the executive of a government might seek to hoard power during the pandemic, he explained. It is true that Germany has a long tradition of involving academic philosophers in Governmental business. The famous philosopher Jeorgen Habermas was often seen consulted by Merkel herself. This is a key point for a policy maker, if they want to stop being surrounded by sycophants all the time!

In the era of immediacy and impromptu-ness, when technology defines our daily existence in the society and when humanities and philosophy are considered redundant and fossils of the past, Germany is opening a new path of debate for the educationists throughout the word. Germany, by far, is not only a global leader to fight the ongoing pandemic but has also been able to plan the future of its economy, especially to tackle the forecasted economic slowdown. This was largely possible because the government is able to use best human wisdom available to fight the situation. While most countries solely depend on scientists, the elected representatives of Germany took assistance from the scholars who must have spent lives studying and understanding changes in human transaction and behaviour. This gave them added benefits to use their research and help the government with better advices on how to use human resources to manage the economy better. This is indeed a lesson for governments, educationists and all the stakeholders to rethink ‘the purpose of research on humanities’!


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