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What could be popular study areas in the post-pandemic world?

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way millions around the world are being educated. From enrolling in online classes, tuning in to live television broadcasts to using new assessment tools – students and teachers are adopting new tools that can enable them to continue their learning trajectories as planned.

However, besides the evident change in how we educate and get educated, we envision that the post-pandemic world will also influence the course choices of students, given the imminent needs of our society today. In our COVID-19 article series this week, we outline 4 study areas that will gain popularity in the post-pandemic world:

Immediate Health Response: Virology and Vaccinology

Nations across the world– from high income to low- and medium-income countries are scrambling to find a vaccine to immune their citizens against COVID-19. The main health professionals on the front line for these efforts include virologists who study the biology of viruses and viral diseases, including the distribution, biochemistry, physiology, molecular biology, ecology, evolution and clinical aspects of viruses. Their primary work is to figure out how diseases like AIDS, SARS and hepatitis spread, in order to prevent more rampant development and to assist in vaccine development.

Similar to virology, the field of vaccinology is also going to be important as it is more focused on the development of vaccines. This field is a combination of microbiology and immunology and comprises not only of vaccine development but also the use of vaccines and their effects on public health.

Modelling and Predictive Analysis: Data Analytics and Statistics

Ever since the outbreak of COVID-19 on November 17 in Wuhan, China, statisticians and data analysts have closely been tracking publicly available epidemiological data to estimate case fatality and case recovery ratios. Such data helps health officials, research organizations and pharmaceutical companies to plan their responses and ensure that the spread of the epidemic is contained.

Researchers are also increasingly using AI, machine learning, and natural language processing to track and contain coronavirus, as well as gain a more comprehensive understanding of the disease. Other important data points that are being tracked include availability of hospital resources and social media responses to the pandemic.

Public Health, Hospital Administration and Lab Technicians 

COVID-19 has re-emphasized the importance of ensuring the overall health and social security of populations worldwide. While medicine is already a popular field amongst young people, there will be a surge of students opting to study public health and the administration of hospitals as well as labs. Public health is a broad field that prevents health problems from emerging or recurring through implementing educational programs, recommending policies, administering services and conducting research—in contrast to clinical professionals like doctors and nurses, who focus primarily on treating individuals after they become sick.

The field is complemented by important hospital administration courses including topics like healthcare research methods, organisational behaviour, teamwork in healthcare organisations and information technology in healthcare.

Preparing for future pandemics: Public Policy 

There will be a renewed attention and re-positioning of the role of governments in health. This will be steered by strong public policy measures. Additionally, governments will pay more attention to heavily investing in universal health coverage as they re-affirm health as a human right. Universal health coverage is already prevalent in 18 countries including various EU nations, Australia, the United Kingdom and Israel, however, it yet to be instated in population-dense countries such as the United States, Bangladesh and various African nations. In order to undergo this transition, governments will need to look towards healthcare-focused public policy professionals.

Courses on the Sustainable Development Goals 

The current pandemic will also impact some of the existing global challenges we face including those related to poverty, gender equality and responsible consumption and production. A way for students to explore how our global challenges are interconnected is through studying the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 goals focus on three core components needed for a sustainable future by 2030: economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection.

Each SDG is broken down into a set of achievable sub-goals. For example, SDG 3, focuses on ‘Ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all at all ages. However, it includes sub-goals such as “Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries”. By studying the SDGs, students can be motivated to introspect potential ways they can make a positive impact to the world they live in. 


Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has truly given a reality check to our world. It has made us realize that we are more connected than we imagine. A disease that broke out in Wuhan just four months ago, has spread across virtually even country on the planet, reminding us of how globalized our world is today. Instead of retreating and becoming more isolationist, we need to recognize that we are undergoing this challenge collectively and that our planet will continue to become more unpredictable with the onset of other global challenges like climate change.

It is also an opportunity for educators to build in skills within students that can equip them with functioning in an unpredictable world. This would require skills such as creative problem solving, informed decision making and above all, adaptability. The former Canadian health minister, Jane Philpott, captured the dire need for our global education systems today very well in 2010:

“The finest motivation for global health education is the recognition of our common humanity, our shared destiny, and the interconnected determinants of health. We should train students for a global state of mind.”

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