Technologies on the horizon

useful Technology has helped teachers stay up-to-date with various areas of knowledge.

The world of technology has revolutionised several industries. The education sector is no exception. We have seen cosmic changes in the way technology is being applied in imparting a world-class education in many parts of the world, especially the underserved geographies and populations.

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 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 2012. And yet it is not! 5G is about to explode into 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 20 times that of 4G.

Compressing space

Mobile connectivity allows virtually every student to access online content on demand. In-class teachers can be 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 taken up massive open online courses from some of the best universities in the world. Indian universities and colleges, too, have made education material available online free of cost for interested students.

Additionally, schools and colleges are looking at engaging with students and their parents or guardians through online means. Many institutes have made their admission process online as well as 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. 

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 limited to video lectures or online labs that allow the learner to practice some basic programming skills or undertake other collaboration-based exercises or skill-based practice sessions.

AR and VR promise to change this. All of us have studied geography and history. Imagine a future where students will wear special glasses and then download 3D maps of the world. They will navigate the coasts of Kerala or take a stroll through the Taj Mahal. Suddenly, what we learnt from static textbooks 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.

Challenges

Many experiments cannot be performed in physical labs as they are either too costly or 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 high bandwidth connectivity will forever alter the student learning experience. There are two key success factors that need to be in place before the power of 5G can be utilised. The first is to ensure the widespread availability of 5G connectivity across the country.

It took a few years for 4G to become popular 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? Once this happens, we will experience a level of learning we can only dream of today.

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Technologies on the horizon

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