17th May is observed as World Telecommunication and Information Society Day across the world every year to highlight the importance of telecommunication. This day is being celebrated since 1969 to mark the founding of ITU and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865.
The COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns across the world for containing its spread, lead to disruption of the lives of all the people across the world. They were compelled to change the way they worked, socialised or lived their lives. For the first time, if they were sick, they were not treated with the loving and caring presence of their loved ones. Instead, they were to be isolated with a responsibility to care for themselves as well as their loved ones. All of this would have been much more painful if not for the Telecommunication technology.
With an aim to improvise on these technologies to make lives easier amid the pandemic, the theme for World Telecommunications Day 2021 is “Accelerating Digital Transformation in challenging times”. In this regard let us look at the ways in which telecommunication tech has helped containing the damage caused by the pandemic.
Digitisation of Learning
In order to contain the spread of the pandemic, measures had to be taken wherein people getting together can be prevented. The schools, colleges, coaching classes, fitness classes, etc. have all been closed down ever since the first nationwide lockdown. It has been more than a year since all of this has stopped. A gap of a whole year can lead to digressed knowledge among the students. This would have led to long term damage in the lives of the upcoming generation. However, the damage was contained to some extent through eLearning.
eLearning has allowed the students to stay connected to their peers as well as with the education. It has also allowed the teachers to upgrade their skills in technology, which would aid the students even after they resume traditional classroom learning. The teachers are able to enrich the content they teach and the students have the advantage of recording the classes and re-watching them in case there is a gap in understanding the concepts. Many teachers of schools or competitive exam coaching centres initiated their YouTube channels to impart knowledge among students. The quality of teaching has improved significantly because the teachers had to compete with the best teachers of the subject across the country, as well as the new teachers who have taken up the vocation for the love of it, rather than considering it a source of income.
The magnitude of damage caused by pandemic has often overwhelmed government agencies as well as healthcare institutions. Amid such chaos where everyone is rushing to save the lives of their loved ones when there was limited availability of resources, the poor of the country would have been vulnerable in the absence of judicial action.
Judiciary, in order to take safety measures, shut down physical courts, but continued hearing PILs and taking up suo motu cognizance of the ground realities through electronic mode. The courts held e-hearings and gave out guidelines to the state to ensure equitable distribution of important resources such as vaccines, medicines, oxygen supply, oxygen concentrators, etc.
It is very important for the world to collaborate with one another in order to defeat the pandemic. However, at such a time, conducting international summits was not safe.
To get around this, eDiplomacy was conducted across the world and decisions were taken to combat the virus. India recently participated in a virtual summit with the European Union where it was able to compel the bloc to consider waiving off the intellectual property rights on the vaccines. Earlier, through a virtual Quad summit, India was able to secure support from USA, Japan and Australia for mass manufacturing of vaccines for the whole world in India. A virtual summit of World Health Organisation was also conducted amid the pandemic, which rolled out several announcements.
Hospitals were considered to be hotbeds for the virus. People facing mild symptoms of any ailments were afraid to visit the doctors, for the fear of contracting COVID. Telemedicine worked wonders for patients, who needed doctor’s advice, but were not severely ill to risk making a physical visit. This technique was also used by mental health practitioners such as counsellors, therapists or the psychologists to help the patients, who were highly anxious because of isolation, lack of social interaction, job insecurity, and fear of losing their loved ones to the pandemic.
Role of Zoom
The Zoom is a video communication software that has played a major role amid the pandemic. The app has been useful for conducting live classes, for conducting live conferences and meetings for work, or for hosting events without gathering many people at one place. People across the world are using the app to meet one another in virtual mode, to conduct business and to conduct group activities.
The app has also been used to invite virtual guests for weddings, funerals or festivals. Through the app, people have been able to keep socialising without having to come in physical contact with anyone else.
Impact of smartphones and social media
Smartphones and social media have become formidable weapons in the common man’s battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. Responsible citizens are coming to the aid of patients and their families looking for hospital beds, oxygen and specific medicines like Remdesivir.
The tech-savvy Gen Z and the millennial generation is proving especially helpful in sharing posts for emergency aid on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Two Class 12 students from New Delhi formed The Uncut, an organisation that largely uses Instagram to connect credible resources for Covid relief. Tia Garg and Suhani Daruka are classmates who formed The Uncut before the pandemic to raise their own social and political awareness. It has since then become a veritable source to organise oxygen supplies and care. The Uncut has 50 volunteers spread across India apart from five other Gen Zers (all under 18 years) who are in charge of specific duties like editorial and design. They are doing the seemingly impossible task of identifying and verifying resources including the telephone numbers and links for medicines and food, oxygen cylinders and beds. Even Bollywood stars Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt have included them in their “stories” on Instagram.
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Another such youth initiative born on social media is H3 (short for Humanity Has Hope). Class 12 student Aanya Malik and four other students from Chandigarh and Delhi, help people find medical resources. Their 50-odd volunteers, all between 10 and 19 years, work through the day on H3. They have two WhatsApp groups: one where they post unverified leads, and a second for verified ones. Since most of them are doing online schooling right now, they work between classes or redirect calls when they are busy.
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Several citizens are flooding Whatsapp groups and Facebook walls with “stories” and shares, asking for urgent for those affected by the coronavirus and struggling to find relief. Internet users and influencers have been publicising the situation of India during the second wave to their audiences abroad. This attention for international quarters has galvanised funds and donations in kind from citizens of Dubai, Canada and Sweden.
A group of student volunteers has created the Instagram account Covid India Resources to deal with the crisis in their own small way. The students share information and contact details of ambulance services, plasma donors, hospital beds, home care services, oxygen sources. You can scroll through their Instagram posts to find relevant information.
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Social media has helped the nonprofit sector spread crucial information quicker in these times. Volunteers of not-for-profit organisation Hemkunt Foundation are working round-the-clock on providing oxygen for Covid patients. Their oxygen drives are providing free oxygen cylinders for all. Hemkunt’s Instagram and Twitter handles have become a source of real-time updates for families looking for oxygen supplies.
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