With every turn, we strain to stitch the future to our past, Arundhati Roy writes. Cartographers draw maps. To cross the emptiness, the choice is between dragging dead ideas, dead rivers, smoky skies and carcasses of our racism and hatred, or to travel lightly across the COVID-crack to imagine a new irregular and unknown future that Walcott may tag as- Another Life. Something like nothing no one has ever seen before. Something that will yield immense originality. Embracing this paradisal perspective is dire if we are to have any chance of future-proofing the workforce of the Caribbean. Our Adamic innocence and immense inheritance of emptiness and nothingness must compel us to open up the possibility for our children, to take on Adam’s task of naming the world.

School-system leaders must weigh four loosely coupled components as they unravel the sequencing puzzle around a planned selective reopening of schools: public health risks, schools’ significance to the economy, effects on students’ flourishing and erudition, and safeguarding. Policy makers must determine when to reopen schools, in the context of a larger charter, for the reopening of the rest of the society. Evidence on the role of children in transmitting the COVID-19 virus remains nascent. Denmark experienced a societal shift with its reopening of schools, as parents who were traditionally allowed to venture into the built environment had to stop at the entrance. The worrying question is whether reopening can contribute to a resurgence among students, staff, and the broader community. In central Copenhagen, a new limit of ten pupils per room was introduced, but even so, some scholars remained at home. Mothers resisted to participate in what they see as a public policy experiment- afraid to send their most precious treasures into the uncertainty of a virus lurking outdoors.

Where significant sections of the workforce rely on schools for academic, wellness benefits and childcare, reopening schools becomes a prerequisite to tap into the full productive capacity of the workforce. Across the EU, there is a large swathe of dual-income packet families that enjoy a reasonable quality of life. The consequence is that fewer parents can stay at home to provide childcare. In these societies, twenty to thirty percent of the workforce are highly reliant on teachers and schools to be able to resume working. In the United States, 26.8 million workers —representing 16 percent of the workforce, are dependent on quality childcare to be able to return to work.

The full complexity of individual workers’ family situations or obligations cannot be found in statistics. Productivity will decline as workers with older children may be able to return only part-time. The situation is much more impenetrable for those with younger children, and those who cannot work remotely. Leaning on older siblings to provide childcare will significantly impair learning for those students, and so this is not a realistic alternative. The sheer magnitude of the challenge and its complexity should not be underestimated. Younger workers are the ones most likely to have dependent children. This poses a challenge if the map makers chart a path to return younger workers first into the work force and protect older workers by keeping them safely at home. If planners never saw the link between classrooms and competitiveness, then COVID-19 has made it lucid.

Domestic abuse is festering like an opportunistic infection, flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic. Quarantine measures have made it harder for victims to find help.  The government of France decided to pay for up to 20,000 hotel nights so that victims can escape abusive partners. Across France, pop-up centres in stores everywhere support women and children experiencing abuse and harm during lock down. In Spain, mothers in lock down with abusive companions can go to any pharmacy and request a ‘Mask 19’ – a shibboleth that alerts the chemist to contact the authorities for help. Mothers in the slums of Chennai who lost employment during the pandemic are now shuttered inside homes where they are battered by husbands who were unemployed before COVID-19. As they bolt through the lanes of the ghettoes weeping in the darkness, mothers reach only as far as the police barricade at the end of the track that works only to enforce the lockdown. The only place to go- is back home. Children do not thrive in such situations and their abuse during quarantine escapes the eyes of their teachers. Schools which were once places of protection and compassion are now closed. Teachers can no longer rescue children and enfold them in warmth.

School systems’ infrastructure, supply chains for cafeterias, rules and regulations, and school tone contribute to their ability to operate safely on reopening. Preparing and even retrofitting spaces for optimal hygiene and sanitation along with new health and safety protocols for classrooms, libraries, clubs and societies, swimming pools, cricket academies, gyms and prayer halls, call for a quick response. Frequently scheduled campus wide hand-washing and sanitation can help to keep the environment and hands relatively clean. Additionally, enhanced cleaning of surfaces at the end of the school day is another vital element of promoting hygiene and wellbeing.