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By G. Balasubramanian

Social distancing has become a necessity at this time to save ourselves from some possible impacts of a viral disease that has spread as a pandemic. It is in essence an exercise of keeping a physical distance from another person to eliminate the possibility of any impact by touch or through other sensory inputs. It is considered as a social action to reduce the chances of infection between individuals or groups. But the concept of social distancing is not anything new. It had remained as a part of culture in several countries for several reasons. It has been welcomed as well as criticised aggressively from time to time. Sociologists have categorized various types of social distancing methods under the following four categories:

a. Affective Social Distance

b. Normative Social Distance

c. Interactive Social Distance

d. Cultural and Habitual Distance

Talking about social distancing, Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional intelligence observes “Social distancing makes it all the easier to focus on the small differences between groups and to put a negative spin on the ways of others and a positive spin on our own.” Advocating the need for ‘Social intelligence’ Daniel Goleman further defines it as “our ability to build successful relationships and to navigate through social environments.” The concepts of “Social awareness and social facility” are essential to develop a meaningful sense and approach to social distancing. Explaining the need for educating on social consciousness John Dewey, the celebrated Educational philosopher says “Education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.”

Efforts have also been made to understand and develop methods and strategies for measurement of social distancing in different contexts and in different geographies so that some measurable scales are developed for standardized analytics.

a. Health and hygiene

b. Personal space

c. Respecting interpersonal distances

d. For maintenance of law and order

e. To ensure safety

f. To maintain social order

Some of these fundamentals have to be incorporated as a part of learning in institutions to facilitate and empower a dignified life. In many countries some of these have become a part of culture and any violation in public spaces is considered as impolite or as an exhibition of arrogance. Let us consider some of the educational implications of the above in a learning environment to empower social consciousness, social awareness and social facility.

a. Health and Hygiene

The history of science has proved time and again the communication of diseases through personal touch or through air, water or through appliances which are handed over from one to the other. Touching an individual without their consent is considered an act of indecency in many cultures. Most actions of goodwill are restrained to a handshake and in some cultures, a simple hug between the most proximate people. In India, the use of Namaste posture was considered as the safest one as it doesn’t involve either a touch or need for a proximity. Habits were inculcated to leave the footwear outside the house, to wash hands and legs before entering the house. Touching the teeth and eyes, poking the nose, inserting clothes or instruments to ears were all forbidden and if any one does it, they were instructed to wash their hands immediately before they touch anything else. Similarly sipping, nail biting and growing long hair were all considered as hazards for the personal health and hygiene of the people. I think the schools can initiate discussion on such issues among children and create an acceptable environment because learning is powerful when the learner is personally convinced rather than when it is forced through authority.

b. Personal Space

The concept of personal space is exhibition of respect to an individual’s identity and esteem. Hence as learners grow, it would be wise to give them the freedom of their space, so that they celebrate their individuality, uniqueness and identity. While the students could be trained on the importance of personal space at the physical level, it will be an opportunity to empower them with their personal space mentally, emotionally and intellectually. The idea of personal space should get ingrained in their mind which would result in their profile and behaviour. Personal space gives a psychological assurance to every individual about their own possibilities as well as sense of responsibility. It encourages self-discipline.

c. Inter-personal space

As much as we teach about the concept and use of personal space in life, it is equally important to imbibe in them the idea of inter-personal space. Unfortunately, this idea has not developed adequately in our country possibly due to a prevailing sense of insecurity, competition, cutting-edge consumerism and a strong push towards achievement syndromes. Inter-personal space is a reflection of a social culture and is reflected through a number of activities. Keeping distance from people while walking, while conversing, while following a queue, while doing a purchase in the markets or malls, while climbing up the stairs are indicative of the culture of an individual. Further, seeking out of line favours impacting the emotional status of others, not letting others to express themselves or do something by pushing ourselves ahead for the same do suggest that we don’t respect the inter-personal space culture. Teaches could provide experiential inputs on such issues, so that the learner develops as an individual who commands mutual respect from others based on the behaviour and culture.

d. Maintenance of law & order

Social distancing is very important for maintenance of law and order. Quite often one could see the tendencies of people failing to follow a queue, pushing others aside while climbing a bus, a train or a flight which exhibit the restless and impatience of the people. They exhibit a sense of irresponsibility and rudeness through such actions which could indeed become subsequently an issue of law and order. Similar cases are also seen by non-compliance to rules and regulations on the road, driving ahead of others giving opportunism for accidents, speed-driving, not maintaining the minimum distances while using vehicles creating a sense of panic in others, creating noise pollution through unwarranted noise, sirens and horns, disturbing the emotional profile of others. Crowding, gathering at religious places and in conferences and not keeping socially required distances might inconvenience the health, safety and comfort of others. Teachers have enough opportunities to create sensitivity on these issues so that learners develop as socially conscious citizens.

e. To ensure safety

Proverbially it is said that ‘accidents do not happen; they are caused.’ Very often unsafe conditions emerge because of impertinent actions of some individuals. Leaving instruments and appliances in public places that could hurt, walking into areas defined as private spaces, abusive use of technology to hack the personal interests of others, bullying and commenting on others personal profiles and status, insulting or harming others in public spaces to settle personal scores, demonstrating one’s proximity to VIPs or people who matter and thereby displaying a sense of authority and arrogance are all indicators of absence of understanding about social space and social order. As such studies in civics offer a lot of opportunity about human rights and its violations. Real time exercises, mock shows on the above and debates in classrooms will help in understanding the need for social distancing, not necessarily as a physical act but as a concept which has a much deeper meaning.

f. Maintaining social order

Every citizen has a significant role to play in maintaining social order. A community is a collective family with people who have equal rights and specific responsibilities. Social distancing, with its deeper meaning, also calls for distancing from unethical actions, unfair practices and being a part of an insane mass behaviour. Learners need to have adequate life skills to be committed and compassionate citizens, who would not engage in corrupt practices, even if they are invited to a situation of such kind. ‘social distancing’ forbids a herd mentality and curbs the growth of the personal intellectual and spiritual profile of the individual. Teaches could take a number of case studies on how an individual can destroy a social order or get himself liquidated in a group with a negative social activism.

Social distancing is an exercise in developing not only the personal profile of the individual, but is an act that is targeted towards developing the skills of citizenry among the learners.

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