The availability of mobile broadband networks and the rapid adoption of smartphones over the past five years has greatly impacted consumers, economy and society in India. Since the start of the COVID 19 pandemic in early 2020, Indians have relied on mobile broadband for remote work, education, healthcare, shopping and other services. Nowhere has the effect of communication been more pronounced than in education. Thanks to the wide availability of mobile broadband connectivity and affordable data plans, many schools are quickly switching to distance education and millions of students are switching to distance learning.
However, despite the significant progress in making 4G available in almost all of India, there are still millions who do not have or have insufficient access to broadband. The lack of broadband internet access is most severe in rural and remote areas of the country. As such, there are still millions of students living in these areas who have insufficient or no access to the Internet. For them, school education has become a challenge during the nearly two years of school closures due to the pandemic that began in early 2020. There has been severe disruption to learning due to inadequate or no access to the Internet. According to a study conducted by Lenasia and the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations between March and September 2021, only 20% of school-going children (i.e. children aged 5-18) enrolled in the formal education system, received distance learning. Education during school closures due to the epidemic1. Moreover, as another study found, many students who had access to an educational device faced challenges related to insufficient Internet speed or found the costs of Internet access prohibitive.2. According to UNESCO, 39% of Indian parents cannot afford the Internet3. If we look at schools specifically, only 24.5% of schools in India are online according to government data4 Some states have less than 10% of schools with internet. Likewise, many teachers may also not have access to a good internet connection or a suitable device to deliver lessons remotely.
How can 5G help meet these challenges?
It is important to highlight here that as education becomes more hybrid and digitally richer – access to quality and reliable broadband becomes just as important as access to quality teachers and textbooks. On the other hand, teachers also need a reliable broadband connection that is always reliable to deliver effective teaching. On the other hand, bringing digital learning to the offline will involve a multi-dimensional approach from ensuring the availability and affordability of Internet connectivity and access devices to the availability of quality digital educational content and sufficient teacher training to deliver digital or distance learning. Then there is the issue of measuring learning outcomes in a distance learning environment. Let’s have a look at how 5G can be effective in tackling all of these and transforming education in India.
Addressing the Internet Coverage Gap with 5G – Connecting schools to the Internet is critical to making education more effective. It is also important from a social and economic point of view. An analysis by EIU-The Economist found that a 10% increase in school connectivity can increase children’s effective school years by 0.6%, and GDP per capita by 1.1%.5. Due to the insufficient fixed broadband infrastructure in India, 5G could play the most important role in providing reliable broadband access to schools. For example, 5G FWA can play an important and effective role here – compared to fiber backlog (FTTH) FWA deployments can cost much less.6. FWA can be deployed not only in rural and remote areas but also in disadvantaged communities in urban areas. Likewise, private 5G networks can be deployed to provide Internet access in schools. Here we can learn from the successful deployment of private LTE networks by many schools in the United States to connect students residing in disadvantaged rural communities.
Make distance learning more interactive and enriching – 5G technology can help learning become more immersive and interactive. Lessons delivered using Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality tools can make learning more experienced. AR/VR can help students better understand topics 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 a 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 provide reliable broadband access to millions of disconnected students but also fundamentally change teaching methods leading to positive educational outcomes.