As the light of new knowledge surges, so too does the darkness that accompanies every advance beyond the stubborn facts. Sir Kevan Collins is the UK’s new Education Recovery Commissioner. There is no recovery outside of managing the learning-loss experienced during the pandemic. At the end of 2019, a fatal illness appeared in Wuhan. By January 2020, the illness spread beyond China and was reported in 220 countries by April 25, 2021. The SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to spread with devastating consequences. Globally, as of 5:31pm CEST, 16 June 2021, there have been 176,303,596 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 3,820,026 deaths, reported to the WHO. While the medical community has gained insights into the epidemiology of COVID-19, important questions remain about its variants and mutations and the clinical complexities and underlying mechanisms that dysregulate the host response, triggering wide-ranging immuno-inflammatory derangements.

The Shanghai virologist, Professor Zhang Yongzhen, was the first scientist to decode the genetic structure of the virus. He immediately published the results of his discoveries on the internet for scientists everywhere to build on his work. Zhang was not infected by Bill Gates’ “Vaccine Colonialism” and his insatiable appetite for intellectual property rights. Professor Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at Oxford, immediately grasped the significance of Zhang’s findings and began working on a vaccine using Zhang’s data. Recognizing that the outbreak was going to be much bigger than early cases had foreshadowed, she instinctively guessed that large clinical trials were necessary. She consulted Professor Andrew Pollard, a professor of paediatric infection and immunology at Oxford, who is an expert on running large-scale vaccine trials.

They combined their talents. As politicians bungled national COVID strategies, these Oxford minds who worked on trials of vaccines for Ebola and the recently emerged Middle East Respiratory Syndrome [MERS], started to push against the fringes of human knowledge.  They took a common cold virus that infects chimpanzees and engineered it so that it would no longer trigger infection in people. Then they further remodified it to carry the genetic blueprints for fragments of the coronavirus. These would be carried into the cells in the body, which would then start to make pieces of coronavirus to train people’s immune system to attack them. Armed with this new technology, Sarah and Andrew were able to manufacture a vaccine and begin testing with backing from AstraZeneca. Extraordinary minds like Zhang and Sarah that falsify our beliefs are our greatest asset, not knowledge.

These minds lurk on the borders of unrefuted speculations, pushing back the darkness that increases equally in every direction as the light of new knowledge expands into fresh frontiers. Cuban and Russian scientists have also invented inoculations pushing back the darkness. The Russian approach was distinctive. Sputnik V is based on a human adenoviral vector-based platform that uses two different vectors for the two jabs for vaccination. We may be told we’re in the same boat. Writing from Rome, Francesca Melandri in a letter from the future reminded Europeans that the boat in which each of us is sailing to conquer COVID-19 “will not look the same to everyone nor is it actually the same for everyone: (and) it never was.” COVID-19 demystified every hypocrisy.

Even the benevolence of the flat world was narrow. Trinidad and Tobago received a donation of eighty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. The bourgeoisie who fly a second flag to make their tax obligations invisible, thereby contributing handsomely to the sustainable underdevelopment and abject poverty of the fatherlands where they make their wealth, were vaccinated elsewhere. Some applied for the vaccine in Serbia, Israel and the UAE. It is clear that no one is coming to help the underdeveloped world. And if they are waiting, they may as well be “Waiting for Godot”.

Key to competitive advantage is an innovation policy built from the base and an education system that nurtures in every child a tendency to doubt. Such an education produces the grit to change the world like Sarah. So to recover from the learning-loss caused by school closures, Sir Kevan Collins is seeking to establish a minimum 35-hour week and add 100 hours of “Extra Lessons”.

His interventions aim to offer an assurance that many more extraordinary minds like Sarah and Andrew will be prepared to innovate and invent and make a post-Brexit England competitive. His plan includes individual and small-group tutoring for 5 million students, professional development of existing teachers and the recruiting and training of fresh teachers. The catch-up plan may cost about £700 per pupil over three years. The plan has a price tag of about £15bn with an additional £11bn for estate rejuvenation.

His plan focuses on Time, Teaching and Tutoring (TTT), with £12bn paid directly to schools and targeted at disadvantaged pupils. Principals will be given autonomy to spend the funds and be monitored by Ofsted rather than the DfE. Sir Kevan has also recommended an extension of the teaching day from 8am to 5pm with extra time used for art and sport. Children in England missed around 23 weeks of classes during the pandemic, with a cost to the economy of “at least” £100bn in lost productivity, rising to £1.6tn by 2100 if not addressed.