5G – The promise of Education Unparalleled
By Bhaskaran Srinivasan
The changing telecommunication landscape
The world of technology has revolutionized several industries. The education sector is no exception. We have seen cosmic changes in the way technology is being applied in imparting world class education to more parts of the world - especially the underserved geographies and populations.
A promising technology on the horizon that promises to change the way we lead our lives is the upcoming 5G communication standard and related infrastructure.
The initial set of telecommunication initiatives were focused on dramatically changing the way of working of large companies and conglomerates – including the financial, airline, and government sectors. More recently focus has shifted to changing the lives of the common consumer.
The paradoxical issue is that consumers did not really know that they needed more bandwidth or higher speeds till they were offered it. We were happy when we had 2G, awed when we got 3G, and can’t get enough of 4G today. For those of us using 4G today, 3G will seem almost pre-historic with its latency, download speed, and quality of service. The reason is that today’s content requires the speed and bandwidth offered by 4G.
4G was heralded as a game changer when it was introduced in April of 2012 by Bharti Airtel in India. And indeed, it did. People who switched to 4G were excited by their experience. Suddenly, there was an explosion of online content being created by companies as well as by the common user. And 4G allowed the sharing of textual, audio, and video data with ease. Compared to the performance levels of 3G, 4G seemed to be end-state.
And yet it is not. 5G is about to explode onto the market. Testing is underway and once the technical glitches are ironed out, it will be rolled out to consumers across the world. 5G will provide for speeds up to 20x that of 4G. 4G provides speeds of up to 200mbps (megabits per second). 5G will provide for 1 gbps (gigabits per second). Users will experience real time performance for the first time. If the signal strength is good, there will be no more “circles” indicating buffering! Movies will download in seconds, and video calling will provide clarity that we can only dream of today.
The role of connectivity in education today
My opening paragraph started by highlighting how technology is being used in education today to provide world class education to the underserved populations. Mobile connectivity allows virtually every student to access online content on demand. In-class teachers are augmented by world-class teachers online. In fact, many teachers – who are genuinely good at delivery – choose to reach out to millions of students by recording their teaching and then publishing it online.
Many students have also experienced MOOC classes online from some of the best universities in the world. Indian universities and colleges too have made available free of cost a lot of education material online for interested students to learn from.
Additionally, schools and colleges are looking at engaging with students and their guardians through online means. Many institutes have made their complete admission process online. This is then augmented with performance reports while the student is studying in the institutes. Guardians can access such information at will. In addition, institutes provide access to digital libraries, online courses, online assessments etc.
Today’s technology has also, of course, helped teachers stay up-to-date with various areas of knowledge.
And yet we are just scratching the surface in terms of how education can be delivered differently.
The promise of 5G
New tools are being created that will in future use the power of 5G connectivity. The most widely known example is Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Today’s online courses are at most limited to video lectures or online labs that allow the learner to practise some basic programming skills or undertake other collaboration-based exercises or skill-based practice sessions.
AR and VR promises to change this. All of us have studied geography and history. Imagine a future where students will wear special glasses and then download maps of the world in 3-dimension. They will navigate the coasts of Kerala or take a stroll through the Taj Mahal. Suddenly, what we learnt from static text books can be experienced as if for real through VR and AR. The speed afforded by 5G technologies will permit download of huge amounts of simulation data in real time. The popular game of “treasure hunt” can take on a new meaning if the faculty hides clues in famous monuments around the world and ask the students to follow the clues. The students truly start enjoying the learning experience.
Many experiments cannot be performed in physical labs because they are either too costly or they are dangerous. These could now be accessed online using simulators. The student interacts with the simulator to perform the experiment and learn in the process.
The availability of truly high bandwidth connectivity will forever alter the student learning experience.
It doesn’t come for free
There are two important key success factors that need to be in place before the power of 5G can be utilized.
The first of course is to ensure the widespread availability of 5G connectivity across the country. It took a few years for 4G to become prevalent in the country. Even today, the quality of service of 4G is iffy in many parts of the country. 5G will take as much time if not longer to penetrate.
The second challenge is the availability of content that uses 5G capabilities. This requires a significant investment on the part of education providers and academicians. New simulators need to be developed that can mimic the actual environment desired. New VR compatible content will have to be developed.
The question is not whether these two will happen. The question is when? It is merely a matter of time before widespread 5G connectivity is available, and the content to go with it gets created.
Once this happens, we will experience a level of learning we can only dream of today. In the years to come, we will wonder how we lived with 4G. Just as we are wondering today, how we lived with 2G and 3G in the past.
This article has recently been published in Deccan Herald.
About the Author
Bhaskaran Srinivasan is the Director of Academics for Manipal Global Education Services. He is responsible for the quality of content and pedagogy. He is also responsible for ensuring high quality of faculty used to deliver the best knowledge to all programs. He works with the Banking Academy, the Global Nxt University, the IT Academy, and the Data Science Academy.