The First to Pay the Price and the Last to Benefit – The Social and Geographic Periphery

The State of Israel has not been spared the severe effects of the corona virus. Not surprisingly, this crisis has spotlighted the fragility of the country’s human and social fabric. As always, the first to pay the price and feel the negative effects are – the social and geographic periphery.  

Alongside humanity’s universal mission to find a cure or vaccine for the virus, the State of Israel, which is part of these global efforts, must also set another overarching goal that is no less important – to narrow the social gaps.  

The corona crisis befell us unexpectedly, but the social gaps between the various groups in Israeli society are not new. Now these gaps may worsen and grow to dimensions the country has never known. After many years of neglect, peripheral areas are on the verge of erupting, a volcano with boiling lava, and this will be the real epidemic – the social epidemic. The corona crisis exposed the unhealthy state of Israeli society and further underscored the gaps between center and periphery.  

Now that the education system is closed, talk abounds about online learning. Similar to the primary and secondary education system, at the universities and colleges our students continue to study, and faculty members continue to teach, albeit remotely. Technology may be able to bridge this need, but can it also bridge the social gaps? 

How are those less fortunate faring at this time? We must now add the digital gap to the economic and infrastructure gaps. In 21st century Israel digital gaps can also determine an individual’s future, and as an enlightened society we must not leave the weak behind. 

A computer is now a basic consumer good. Home internet access is also a basic consumer good. What’s more, one computer is not enough for a household, all the more so in large families. The digital divide and lack of financial resources can sometimes determine the future of a child from a family without means and nip in the bud his or her dreams of a better future. 

Many will survive the virus health-wise, but not everyone will survive the economic crisis. This crisis is more severe in the social and economic periphery, and the gaps are immediately apparent in education and academia, in the ability to maintain a study routine and acquire the keys to success and a fulfilling future. 

Distributing computers to pupils will help advance digital literacy and place the education system at the forefront of computer-based pedagogy. By doing so we will increase the prospects for a better future for additional groups in society, uplift education and ensure that academia will also be accessible to the boy from the peripheral town of Yerucham and to the girl from the peripheral Bedouin town of Rahat when they come of age.  

At a time when economic and social gaps and the standard of living are central discourse topics, narrowing gaps in general, and technological gaps in particular, should be goals on the government’s agenda. 

As an aside, I would like to note that over the years 65% of SCE students, the institution that I head, were first generation college students, in other words – the first members of their family to pursue an undergraduate degree and the first to break through the glass ceiling. 

Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and plan for the day after the “corona crisis”. We must understand that maintaining a cohesive society, narrowing gaps and pursuing social equality are the cornerstones of a nation’s resilience. 

In the face of the myriad viruses in the air, narrowing the gaps is the real vaccine Israeli society needs.  

 

About the Author
Prof. Jehuda Haddad is President of Shamoon College of Engineering.
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