India/August 03, 2022/Source: https://www.ericsson.com/
5G connectivity can help make schooling more effective, bring learning to millions of students in rural and remote parts of India, and promote economic growth.
The availability of mobile broadband networks and the rapid adoption of smartphones during the past five years have significantly impacted India’s consumers, economy, and society. Since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic in early 2020, Indians have relied on mobile broadband for remote working, education, healthcare services, shopping, and other services. The impact of connectivity has nowhere been more visible than in the field of education. Thanks to the widespread availability of mobile broadband connectivity and affordable data plans, many schools pivoted to remote education quickly and millions of students switched over to remote learning.
However, despite significant progress in making 4G available in almost all parts of India, there are still millions who have either no or inadequate access to broadband. Lack of broadband Internet access is most acute in rural and remote parts of the country. As such there are still millions of students living in these areas who have inadequate or no access to the Internet. For them, school education became a challenge during almost two years of pandemic-induced school closures starting in early 2020. There was a severe disruption in learning because of inadequate or no access to the Internet. According to a study conducted by Lenasia and Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations between March and September 2021, only 20% of school going children (i.e., those between the ages of 5-18) enrolled in the formal education system, received remote education during pandemic-induced school closures1. Moreover, as another study found, many students who had access to a learning device faced challenges with inadequate Internet speed or found Internet access costs prohibitive2. According to UNESCO, 39% of Indian parents cannot afford Internet costs3. If we look at schools specifically, only 24.5% of schools in India are connected to Internet as per government data4 – some of the states have less than 10% of the schools with Internet. Similarly, many teachers too may have no access to a good Internet connection or a suitable device for delivering remote lessons.
How can 5G help address these challenges?
It’s important to highlight here that as education becomes more hybrid and digitally rich – a good reliable broadband access becomes as important as access to good teachers and textbooks. On the hand, teachers also need an always-on reliable broadband connection to deliver effective teaching. On the other hand, bringing digital learning to the unconnected will involve a multi-dimensional approach from ensuring availability and affordability of Internet connectivity and access devices to availability of good digital learning content and adequate training of teachers for delivering digital or remote learning. Then there is the issue of measuring learning outcomes in a remote learning environment. Let’s us look at how 5G can be effective in addressing all these and transform education in India.
Addressing the Internet coverage gap with 5G – Connecting schools with Internet is critical for making schooling more effective. It is also important from a socio-economic standpoint. An analysis by EIU-The Economist found that a 10% increase in school connectivity can increase effective years of schooling for children by 0.6%, and GDP per capita by 1.1%5. Given the inadequacy of the fixed broadband infrastructure in India, 5G can play the most important role in bringing reliable broadband access to schools. For instance, 5G FWA can play an important and effective role here – compared to a fiber build-out (FTTH) greenfield FWA deployments can cost significantly less6. FWA can be deployed not only in rural and remote areas and but also in underserved communities in urban areas. Similarly, private 5G networks can be deployed to bring Internet access to schools. Here we can learn from the successful deployment of private LTE networks by several schools in the US to connect students residing in underserved and rural communities.
Making remote learning more interactive and enriching – 5G can help learning become more immersive and interactive. Lessons imparted with augmented reality / virtual reality tools can make learning more experiential. AR/VR can help students understand subjects better by bringing theoretical concepts to life. AR / VR can also be used to impart training to teachers. Interactive lessons rich in visual content can have positive impact on learning outcomes.
As in many other sectors, 5G will have a transformative impact on school education in India. It can not only help bring reliable broadband access to the millions of unconnected students but also bring about a sea-change in the teaching methods leading to positive learning outcomes.