Wherever you go, COVID follows. Students and teachers are bracing to go back to school under a whole new normal. Many have already raised the alarm about the rise of technology and the risks of freedom-tracing, commonly known as surveillance. In other words, how corporate and state are coming together technologically to limit movement for a better health in a pandemic stricken society.
Our schools and campi can undoubtedly benefit from greater geolocation for personal safety especially as the community emerges from real fear and the threat of contamination. Tech giants have already teamed up to make our itineraries COVID free when possible, or so they argue. In other places, cities are looking at digital permits for a safer and authorized circulation. Pre-COVID, smart campus programs hailed movement analytics as boosting the institution’s efficiency strategy. Through geopositioning placed on the university’s app, crowds could be managed during rush hour in the cafeteria, traffic jams could be diverted and even small disfunctions in the management of facilities optimized. It’s all for the greater good folks! However, technology’s recent gains in the face of democracy should remain clear - and limited. How much of the new affordances of this brave new world are likely to endanger our basic right as citizens to move, speak and decide freely? Whilst it may be comforting for some, others will argue these transformations are happening strictly under exceptional circumstances and by constitutional decree. In most cases, the latter are to cease when COVID exception comes to term. Will they?
As we prepare to curb the physical and psychological effects of the pandemic, our students and staff will struggle with fear and distress, as we move on and attempt to embrace normality again – at whichever speed nations and Big Tech may decide to make it happen.
Freedom to choose how and where should also be part of that journey.
At Catolica, we side with the great liberal tradition of safety and constitutional freedom. Our students can rest assured the university’s unfailing infrastructure will protect them with a strong sense of commitment to public health whether they wish to remain remote or comeback to campus. Catolica will protect all students equally regardless of the varying social degree of technology they may have access to.
But going back to school will mean things have changed - whether students choose or not to remain remote. Universities will be redesigned, classes will too. Space will matter and teaching apart will go to new depths. Every single step of the education layout will need to adjust. Another question is whether technology and tracing Apps need inevitably to be part of this new landscape destined to make us safer at home, in school and at work. Perhaps out on the App-street, freedom to choose to turn these off must remain an essential principle.
In the end, just like technology should make us safer, education must remain an essential tool for democracy. Tracing devices will provide people and organizations with a map for a virus free world. But the real challenge is how the borders of democratic rule will coincide with the limits of technology, empowering us all to learn and access knowledge in a safer way.
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