Traditionally, we all make and break old and new resolutions every December. Be it setting a book-reading target, improvising on a talent, bidding goodbye to a bad habit, or learning a new skill.
But then came 2020 which tested our resilience and adaptability in ways we could have never imagined. Be that as it may, it is only fair to give the upcoming year a chance. While we do that, we must reset, reflect and maybe try and be more responsible.
Why responsible, you ask? After all, we have been living in the shadow of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Avoid any false hopes. 2021 is going to be largely a continuation of all the changes that we were forced to adapt to.
"Let's resolve to be patient and steadfast. Let's resolve to spend 2021 fighting for science, facts, democracy and compassion and repairing all that was lost in 2020," contributing Opinion writer Wajahat Ali wrote in the New York Times.
What then can we really look forward to in 2021? Vaccine, yes. Better health, sure. The pandemic might have spread its way into the list of the world's worst health crises. But this time, we are armed with more capable science and everyone should benefit.
We must work on building a post-pandemic world, for us and for future generations. Reorienting healthcare, for ease and access; flexible workspaces; technological must-haves to ensure safety; accessible classrooms for holistic e-learning - the list can go on and on.
The raging virus left an already overburdened healthcare system in a state of disrepair. Many cities saw hospitals reach a point where they had to turn away patients if they did not have Covid.
"It started last December when we heard of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in China. Even as the entire world took it as a mere health update, its severity couldn't be predicted. We were still unprepared and only after the first patient with travel history to Wuhan was reported on January 30 were we asked to pull up our socks," said Dr Nachiket Kolhe, who works in a Mumbai-based hospital and has been a frontline worker since March.
Though Dr Kolhe was on Covid duty from April, his recollection of working in PPE gear for 13 long hours is nothing short of agonising. "No food and water, no loo visits and just continuously updating the figures of those testing positive of COVID or succumbing to it," he recounted.
Asked what hopes he has going into the new year, Dr Kolhe says, "India has always lacked a solid healthcare system. We produce the finest of doctors but the absence of infrastructure forces us to look for greener pastures. Even though coronavirus brought down the healthcare sector to its knees, the lack of doctors, nurses and other medical staff has only proven that it is time the government does something about this situation. I have lost colleagues to this deadly virus and there were many who were left in critical condition. In 2021, I hope the healthcare sector gets its due and Covid warriors earn the respect that they deserve."
The students too had to make their peace with the seismic change that Covid unleashed. Irrespective of the age group they fell under, they were all confined to their homes. The pandemic transformed traditional classrooms leaving teachers and educators too at the mercy of technology.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, Rachel Jacob, Head of the Journalism Department at Madras Christian College, said, "The colleges have already released an SOP for students and faculty and ensured sufficient precautions and measures are in place to guarantee their safety. From blackboard and chalk to virtual learning with the help of interactive modes and visual aids, this transformation is more independent and allows us to customise our approach as per the need of the students."
Though she strongly feels that technology cannot replace the face-to-face interaction between a teacher and a student, Jacob believed there was a need to adopt a hybrid method to include both online and offline modes of imparting lessons.
"Many of the technology-driven education projects in India were obsolete and are still at a nascent stage. With the pandemic, internet-based teaching was forced upon us. Not just the higher education sector, even other organisations have adapted to virtual interactions. Going forward, students will also have more courses to choose from. However, developing their soft skills can still be a challenge as personal interactions have come down," Jacob said.
While the pandemic left schools and colleges empty and silent for the best part of the year, its after-effects brought in several mental health challenges. One cannot also forget the impact it had on vulnerable students. Many were forced to drop out, given the lockdown and their financial status.
Digitalisation of teaching and working on experiential learning modules is definitely the way forward but we need to think of those who were displaced by the avalanche of changes going online unleashed and find ways of accomodating them.
In an unforgiving year, professionals who could afford to work online too were not spared. Working from home definitely brought in its own set of challenges. Shuffling between office work and housework affected the mental health of many.
"In 2021, with the new normal, it is a huge adjustment given our lifestyle. But with the detection of the new strain, it can be the continuation of what we have been already accustomed to. Mental health is still a huge concern in several ways. One thing we can do in the new year, have very realistic goals, be very understanding and kind to ourselves. One of the ways to do that is to practise self-compassion. It is important to remind ourselves that even if the minimum we did in 2020 was just survive, that is still alright," said Rashi Vidyasagar, Director, The Alternative Story.
She went on to add: "Organizations where we work, schools and colleges need to be more compassionate towards people in 2021. Whenever the crisis dies down, we will have to analyse our losses. It has changed us as human beings and we are beginning to prioritise like never before. The year that went by was also full of anxiety for many of us, our health, and that of our parents. There has been a churn in our relationships. 2021 needs to reflect the same on multiple levels. We need to figure out how to support people in making sense of what happened."
Though several organisations have extended remote working till mid-2021, restructuring working practices can be the way forward.
Omar Bazza, a Toronto-based therapist, feels that working from home has shown that we can do our job well without having to go to the office, allowing us to stay close to our families and cutting down on commute time.
"I am hoping for most industries that they will be flexible with working from home moving forward especially since it can be so helpful for employees. The idea of a 40-hour workweek in an office is so archaic and has been shown to decrease productivity. Allowing flexibility whether that's in terms of hours or working from home will not only help in terms of employees' mental health but also in terms of productivity because the more an employee is happy, the better they will be at their job," Bazza said.
As doctors, teachers and other professionals look forward to this new year, at this given instance, one can only wish for COVID-19 to go away.
Akash Shembhekar, a procurement manager in a New York-based firm, voiced almost everyone's deepest wish. "Considering how 2020 turned out to be, I hope the new year starts off pretty normal. By June, I hope to go out to grab a bite without thinking of the ramifications of our actions. Take a walk without caring for the mask that I have left at home. Visit small mom-and-pop shops to eat, buy or just chatter with new people. I hope the new year helps us to be more conscious of how we can better do things that we always took for granted."