By Professor Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi
I was completely shocked at several administrators of universities saying that they expect all their staff to return to work at the offices as per normal even though the decision has been made to teach online for next semester.
To me these administrators are still equating productivity with presence at the office. Many office work as well as teaching at tertiary levels can be done without presence at the office and this has been shown by the continuity of teaching and learning at home.
The idea of 'telecommuting' has been around since the internet began to make its mark on the planet. Alvin Tofler in his exciting book Future Shock which I read in my first year at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay for my Psychology of Human Adjustment class 40 years ago had predicted telecommuting 16 years before the internet revolution. Apparently the idea of 'you must be at work place so I can see you' is a culture that cannot be dislodged even with a 5G internet speed. Human stupidity and vanity outclass internet speed and availability.
After MCO, I think that our life should not be as normal as before MCO. Our new normal will not be the same for the next two years at least. It should not be the same. It MUST NOT be the same. If our life goes back to being the same as before the MCO, we will never be rid of this virus and we will destroy our civilization through economic catastrophe.
I would recommend that those work that can be done remotely be continued for the next two years. For office workers that need to be present, I recommend two shifts be implemented so as to reduce the numbers in the office for ease of social distancing practices. The first shift can begin at 7 am and ends at 12.30 pm with a short sandwich break provided from home or packed and pre-ordered. The second shift would be from 2 pm to 7.30 pm. In this way the office will be half empty at the period of 7 am to 7.30 pm. The lift is a potential disease spreader. All lifts should only be allowed to take in 4 passengers only and stair wells must be used by those who are working on the first to third floors. Those who are aged and cannot take the stairs can be given permission to use the lift.
I would also recommend that some offices can have half of their workers on one day and the other half the next so that in a week a balance between online home-office and at the physical office can be maintained.
Transport systems such as buses and MRT must be at half capacity at all times. I recommend a soldier be stationed at MRT and commuter trains to ensure social distancing and disallow a packed carriage as per normal.
Mosques, churches and other religious places must be at one third capacity with congregants taking turns going to the services. The pew and prayer space must be disinfected for the next service. Temperatures of congregants must be taken. I am very sure God will understand.
Restaurants must also be at one third capacity for dining-in patrons with the tables being disinfected and wiped clean after every use. Shops on the streets must practice allowing only one or two customers at a time and prevent crowding at all cost. Failure to comply will come with a stiff penalty.
At shopping malls, all eateries must be at one third capacity for dining-in and all shops allowing maximum two customers at a time. Persons entering the mall must be checked for their temperature and hand sanitizers must be everywhere. Movie theaters also must be at one third capacity at all time for two years. Prices of food, tickets and other items can be raised to have some offset effect.
The most difficult place to think about social distancing is our public schools. With 40 students per class there is no way that social distancing can be practiced. Some drastic decisions must be made and I will suggest most of them. Firstly, the curriculum must be reduced to the very essential only and that means cutting out one third of the learning. As it is I personally think the curriculum is already overloaded since I went to school. Some subjects must be suspended such as religious studies, moral studies and physical education that can be taken up by the parents themselves. For the secondary schools subjects such as history, geography and mathematics, these can be taught online. Subjects such as science and industrial arts where tools and laboratory equipment are used must be done in the physical way. Since most students will not be coming for the other subjects, many classrooms can be converted into laboratories and workshop.
For the primary schools which does not have workshop or laboratory classes, students must be divided into two sessions. Thus, a school of 1000 can have the morning session with 500 students and the other 500 in the afternoon. Better yet, 250 can come one day and the other 250 can come the next day so that each student can experience only three days of school but the teachers must come six days a week. This will allow social distancing to work more effectively among the very young.
I would prefer that all schools be closed completely for the next six months. There is great difficulty at managing social distancing with the primary schoolers. We must think also of packaged home schooling kits.
The government create a policy that employers must also allow young parents to take no pay leave or flexi hours in order to care for the young for the next six months. Child care centers can be the next breeding ground for COVID-19 and I am for complete shut down and making all efforts to keep our young at home. By hook or by crook this must be done. If these centers were to be operational, the centers must modify their buildings so that each room shall not be smaller than 100 square feet and hold 5 children completely isolated from the other children in the other rooms.
Planes can once again fly but rigorous checks of temperatures and a certificate of COVID-19 free tests must be given one week before travel. Again, the plane must be at half capacity except in first class compartments. The ticket prices will be raised so that the airline can offset the new capacity and also force people with absolutely necessary reasons only to fly.
If we are to have our lives back and fight the virus at the same time we must think outside of our normal comfort stations and think critically with our masks, social distancing and temperature gauges.
(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at a local university.)