Zoltán Bajmócy

Back to insane

What we failed to learn from the COVID situation


by Zoltán Bajmócy


It was a Wednesday afternoon in early March. I had a meeting with a student and a friend of mine, who is the head of the local Multiple Sclerosis Patients Association. We discussed the details of the volunteering work the student would carry out as part of a university “service learning” course. We were at the café of the university library – the only café in the district, which is accessible with a wheelchair. The place was buoyant as always; full of students from all over the world. Everything seemed so “normal”.

It was this evening, when I received the e-mail from the dean, that the university is closing down the next morning. And it was this Friday, when we received the news that primary and high schools are closing down the next Monday. I had this gut feeling that we are going to experience a world very soon, which is completely different from that we know today. I was worried and also excited about becoming the home-teacher of my son.

I sat down and sketched our weekday schedule. We learn together in the morning (enough to start at 9 am): practice English, then we do some sports. Then comes the “serious” stuff (such as Maths or Biology) and we finish with the creative subjects. By 12:30 we’re done with learning. I can start working, and he can start to play. It was only after nicely drawing down this timetable, when I told my son that from Monday we are changing to home-school. He was blown away. You should have seen how happy and excited he was!

Later on, of course (?), the school started to send us all the tasks and learning material – through 18 different online classroom scenes(!) – but we could basically manage to keep our timetable. Being locked down, unable to visit friends and relatives was of course sad and difficult. It made so unequivocally apparent how important personal relations are. But now, when we are experiencing the second wave of the epidemic, my son doesn’t stop asking me when the school would close down and stop to devour his whole day. Because, in spite of its difficulties, the quarantine times provided a tiny instance for normality.

The world slowed down, which provided room for reflection. We could experience how our streets would look like without being overcrowded, or with voices other than the noise of cars. We could experience clean air. Parents could see what kids are learning at school. They started to ask questions, tell their opinion and intervene. I think, this was the first time ever in Hungary, when other than a few intellectuals started to reflect on our education system and some of its abnormalities. We could experience patience from our workplace. Being aware of the challenge of digitalizing courses or working and home-teaching at the same time, no one expected you to produce scientific papers. Neither were they upset, when a child interrupted an online meeting.

This also was an instance, when certain thoughts received much larger attention than before. Many of my friends effectively advertised the slogan that instead of “social distancing” what we need is “physical distancing and social solidarity”. And I also experienced a momentum for social solidarity. I could raise a substantial amount to help the local Roma families, with whom we had been cooperating for a long time. Most of them lost their jobs immediately after the start of the lock down. The difficult situation of many of the disabled people also received attention. Friends from the environmental and the degrowth movement could draw attention to the vulnerability of the growth-oriented market-capitalist societies and the benefits of slowing down in the same time. Many people started to experiment with gardening, baking their own sourdough-bread, or joining local food systems. There was some sort of an optimism (mixed with a huge deal of doubt) that this may be the momentum to transform the world into something more sustainable, meaningful and just.

Certainly, the quarantine situation was not the period of actually changing our education system, reducing inequalities, altering the logic of the economy or the working of the labour market. These were times, which provided an opportunity to reflect on what is going on. And of course, me and many of my friends and family members are in an exceptional situation. We had the opportunity to stay at home, to have friends to discuss such issues with, to have skills to actually home-teach our son, to spend quality time together and support each-other. Also, I’m not discriminated against and do not suffer from severe injustice or oppression. Which makes my perception biased. The only thing I could do with this, is to try to reflect on this and try to incorporate the perceptions of all those whom I know and are not in such a privileged situation. And still I’m convinced that there was this momentum for transformation, and that it disappeared as quickly as it emerged.

Now (in autumn), we are experiencing more severe pandemic situation than in spring. But life seems to be much “normal”. Economic interests prevail over epidemiologic considerations, consumption prevails over voluntary simplicity or self-reflection, the education system goes on reproducing existing hierarchies and hegemonies. Instead of slowing down, we basically strive to gain back our speed. All in all, we are back to insane


I am an associate professor at the University of Szeged, Hungary and also a civil ac vist trying to further social jus ce and sustainability. I believe in research with impact, and ac vism with reflec on. Hence, my aim is to conduct meaningful research in a coopera ve manner, with a par cular focus on marginalized communi es and environmental sustainability. I like hiking, receiving postcards instead of e-mails, and someday I would like to learn to speak German properly. And as a parent, I would really like to have an educa on system in Hungary that provides equal opportunties for the diversity of students.