The original, full version of this article was produced for the Leadership Academy for Poland – an apolitical and nonpartisan initiative seeking to contribute to the development of good leadership for Poland and for the world.

As the coronavirus epidemic causes disruption across the globe, we ask eight experts from different fields to explain what effect the crisis has already had, and to offer a vision of what could emerge from it.

Schools will lose their monopoly

By Marcin Szala, an educator and academic director at Akademeia High School, Warsaw

The quarantine caused by the coronavirus has closed the doors of schools to teachers and pupils and forced them to switch to distance learning. When we return, it will be with experience of a different education. This will weaken the conviction that the learning process cannot be changed and can only be conducted by school.

Circumstances have forced us to begin looking for other sources of knowledge and skills. Although previously we searched for private tuition alongside school, these resources have grown – not only textbooks, but peers, MOOCs and even YouTube have become sources of knowledge, as have even futuristic AI-based virtual teacher applications.

Certain people will notice how much teachers helped them, and others how little. Some pupils and teachers will see how effective independent work can be, and that time at school is not always well used.

State TV and teachers face criticism for error-strewn lessons during Poland’s coronavirus lockdown

These experiences will stay with us. At first, in many places we will go back to how things were. But the seed has been planted. The belief that teaching can be different will remain among school administrators, teachers, pupils and parents. The experience of working with organisations and companies that have come to the aid and from whose products and services millions of pupils and teachers have benefited during the epidemic will also remain.

Searching for and implementing new solutions has given companies and organisations new resources and opened up a market that was previously underfunded and impenetrable.

I expect that the schools we go back to after the pandemic will become diversified, the pupils will begin to perceive school as one of many sources of knowledge, and the teachers will have experienced another way of working.

Certainly, if for many people education was a synonym of school, for many of them this understanding will expand, and they will see that it is a much larger ecosystem. School will lose its monopoly. The question is: will the majority benefit, or the few?

As lockdown pushes education online, Poland’s digitally excluded children are being left behind

An ever more open-source society

By Alek Tarkowski, president of the Centrum Cyfrowe Foundation and sociologist of the internet and technologies

When the internet first appeared in Poland, we distinguished the “real” from the “virtual”. Some predicted that real life would escape to the virtual world. But we soon realised that the real one was alive and well, just increasingly pervaded by digital technologies.

A few weeks ago, our whole world suddenly moved online. “Real” life was temporarily closed. Since then, we’ve been living in a hastily created remote digital society. Of course, there are people who are still working normally, doing essential things to keep social life functioning. For many of us, though, there is just home, and apart from that – the internet.

We’ll be living in the remote society for months, not weeks, and the ways of using technology we’re developing will stay with us. For better or worse.

At a time of crisis, the elections are highlighted, which must be delivered using digital technologies. We can follow the Chinese route, and see the internet and mobile phones as a control system. Meaning suspending some of our rights during the pandemic, and people accepting supervision – since it saves lives.

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But the alternative is another path – using the internet as a technology for cooperation and open exchange. Our greatest chance for survival today is the actions of geneticists, openly sharing knowledge in a way that until recently was unthinkable. Thanks to 3D printing and limited industrial property rights we can reduce shortages of essential medical equipment. Wikipedia – as usual – provides us with reliable information and fights disinformation with the joint efforts of thousands of volunteers.

These are all examples of people working together at grassroots level, methods developed online over the last two decades. The crisis is an opportunity to popularise these positive experiences. Horizontal, democratic cooperation and mutual support networks will be essential to survive this crisis. And to design technologies to serve people and societies when the crisis is a distant memory.

Polish couple use 3D printers to produce protective masks for medical personnel

After the pandemic, droughts and the beginning of genuine climate initiatives

By Katarzyna Jagiełło, a climate activist and expert on biological diversity

For the first time since we first saw our blue planet from space, we are truly united. For the first time we see humanity as clearly joined by a shared interest. The coronavirus gave us the tangibility of a crisis essential for triggering emotions of joining, but also the desperate need to act.

For years, business and governments responded to the unprecedented mobilisation of the world of science by saying that radical intervention in the economy and measures to protect humanity from the worst effects of the sixth extinction and global warming was impossible. The coronavirus makes it clear that profound intervention and collaboration at global level are possible after all.

It’s good that this is happening before the summer.

After the first snowless winter, drought will be felt extremely acutely in Poland. Reduced access to water will be increasingly widespread. Food prices, especially of fruit and vegetables, will rise. There might be power outages.

It will be an edgy summer – heat makes it harder to maintain the hygiene we have been learning, but also to stay calm.

Nature will begin to dictate an increasingly fast pace. We’ll start following agricultural forecasts and linking them directly to the state of our wallets and opportunities for healthy eating. Before climate and ecology movements, the challenge to use the mental imprint of the pandemic to build greater awareness of the climate catastrophe.

Poland set for “one of the worst droughts in over a hundred years”

Coronavirus has spread the danger, placing on a knife edge questions about who is to pay the real price for arresting the momentum. The costs of the environmental crisis are even higher, putting the existence of humankind at stake.

For the first time, we must deal with a challenge regardless of national GDP or location. International institutions will therefore receive a new mandate. It is finally time for a new narrative. A new doomsday ethics, new economy, new interpersonal relations. And perhaps a return to the oldest values. Frans de Waal showed that primates are fundamentally altruistic. I want to see that.

The courts are on their knees. Now they will collapse

By Jarosław Gwizdak, a former judge and president of the Katowice-Zachód regional court and member of the board at INPRIS – Institute for Law and Society

Let’s imagine the biggest law office. It employs around 10,000 highly qualified lawyers, and deals with almost 20 million cases every year.

This office is called “the Polish justice system”. For 30 years it has been working through force of habit, without serious reflection on modernisation and improvements.

Now, for at least a few weeks, the firm has stopped completely. There have been no trials, sending of legal letters has officially halted. The production line of the ruling factory has stopped.

Production will be restarted after the epidemic ends. It will then turn out that the factory’s previous working methods fall far short of satisfying public demand.

The justice system cannot be considered in isolation from the social, economic and political situation. Courts resolve businesses’ disputes and can rescue or destroy them. They will also adjudicate on the actions taken during the epidemic: whether it was permissible to run “for one’s health” during the lockdown. A new category of offences will await: “coronavirus-related”.

Finally, it will be up to a court to rule on the actions of the National Electoral Commission in the ongoing campaign, including adjudication on the validity of the election.

Even now, the courts do not fulfil the hopes placed in them for efficient, fair and timely judgements, not only because of the huge number of cases. When they resume, this situation will certainly worsen.

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The “digital exclusion of the judicial branch” will be impossible to overcome. The backlog will grow at a similar pace to the spread of the virus.

Without a fast track of economic proceedings for companies (including individuals), preceded by compulsory mediation, business too will not cope with the effects of the crisis.

The main value of resolving a dispute is removal of the uncertainty between the parties. In an absolutely uncertain world, we will be waiting longer for any court ruling. Too long. 

The authorities will suppress social organisations

By Draginja Nadaždin, director of Amnesty International Poland and member of the commissioner of human rights’s social affairs council

The COVID-19 pandemic will result in acceptance of the strong power of politicians and a lack of trust in state institutions. Governing politicians will try to retain their extended powers, forcing people to choose between human rights and safety.

Social organisations that take it upon themselves to be watchdogs will check whether the authorities give up these additional powers after the epidemic subsides and whether they are complying with human rights. But their resources for doing this will be even smaller than before, rendering their monitoring incomplete and partial.

Pro-government media and politicians will be irritated by revelations of violations of human rights and the rule of law as well as instances of discrimination. This will lead them to defame or ridicule the organisations and media revealing infringements.

Effective social organisations will be those which combine publicising cases of human rights violations with solidarity and community-building initiatives. Many of them are thinking of turning the upsurge in solidarity during the crisis into more lasting actions. Initiatives are emerging built on the experience of the pandemic, which has made global interdependences, including in human rights, very clear.

Many absurd scientific projects will appear

By Karolina Dzwonek, a molecular biologist and drug development project manager

Within 12-15 months, a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 will be developed. It could be introduced in Poland via the so-called centralised procedure common to all European Union countries. In this case, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will issue an opinion, and the European Commission will permit it to enter circulation throughout the EU.

At the same time, many medications used to treat other illnesses will be tested in COVID-19 patients, and compositions alleviating the symptoms of the illness and improving sufferers’ health will be found.

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Many clinical studies of new medications for other indications than antiviral ones are delayed as a result of the epidemic, putting back registrations of new therapies for other illnesses. Patients with rare diseases for which no therapies are available or with ineffective medications will particularly suffer.

In Poland, there will be numerous projects developing new antiviral medications, molecular tests detecting viruses, programmes analysing potential mutations of viruses towards those potentially dangerous to human health and lives, etc. Some will not be evaluated properly, and will be funded based on the attractiveness of the subject and a promising title.

As a result, we will see a new group of projects joining the earlier “achievements” from this category, such as deer antler stem cells or new anticancer drugs based on an earthworm extract with an electrical current applied. Public-funded absurdities.

For a time, awareness of transmission of illnesses and basic hygiene rules will grow, but before the next wave of the epidemic or the next flu season, the habits will weaken. Only after a few serious epidemiological episodes will Poles get used to how to behave and to living in the new normality.

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The pandemic will teach us systematic thinking

By Agata Stafiej-Bartosik, Polish country director of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public and a lecturer at Kozminski University

For the first time in the history of Homo sapiens, everyone in the world faces the same threat. This situation is making us realise as societies and individuals that to solve the problems that affect us all, it is essential for many social actors to work together.

The previous concept of “outsourcing” work – unrelated to business – to other entities such as NGOs, local government, or even public administration, has simply failed. Someone makes tests, someone else pays for them, someone distributes them, someone manages the data, someone informs, someone heals, someone feeds – “everyone must work, my little friend,” as the poet Julian Tuwim put it. Every problem we struggle with – people affected by homelessness, domestic violence, hunger, environmental pollution – requires a systematic approach and collaboration from many institutions, companies, organisations and experts.

This self-evident fact, brought into relief by COVID-19, will have an impact on how we deal with other social problems in future.

The people engaged in philanthropy, donors willing to offer their money to help deal with these challenges, realise that NGOs alone might not be able to solve these problems.

If this activates funds for systematic solutions, it will unleash potential for remarkable progress.

The mountains in bloom

By Szymon Ziobrowski, director of the Tatra National Park and founder of the Stanisław Wyspiański Association

From an environmental point of view, the current situation has been good. Looking at satellite maps of pollution, it is clear that the CO2 emission level is much lower. Something that seemed unrealistic, reducing emissions, has suddenly become fact. Disregarding the very sad circumstances, of course, nature is certainly getting a breather from humans.

The Tatra mountains have become a kind of test case – we will be able to observe how animals react to this peace and absence of humans. Spring for the fauna of the Tatras is an important time of mating and replenishing fats after winter.

We foresee major reproductive success in the coming year, and in species that are forced to coexist with humans (such as chamois), we are noting lower stress hormone levels.

Even now, wood grouse and black grouse are tooting close to trails, so these species of fowl will certainly have more peace. We are also observing more tracks intersecting trails, which means that animals are moving more freely. Predators also have more space in the absence of humans, making it much easier for them to hunt.

Despite these positives, the Tatra National Park will struggle with the crisis, because 80% of its income is from tourism. And we expect that the number of tourists visiting the Tatras after COVID-19 will fall, as Poles find themselves worse off. Last year, 4 million people visited the park. Previously, around 10% of tourists have come from abroad, so we’ll no doubt record a significant decline here too.

This is significant because income from ticket sales and other activities in the Tatras supports the budget maintaining the infrastructure – particularly trails, which need systematic supervision and renovations because of huge tourist numbers and harsh weather. This work could also prove very difficult.

The above short essays are a selection from the full, original version of this text, published in Polish for the Leadership Academy for Poland – an apolitical and nonpartisan initiative seeking to contribute to the development of good leadership for Poland and for the world. Translation by Ben Koschalka.

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