Why networks are key to remote education in India
The past year has driven the biggest transformation in the Indian education system by taking everything online. Ciena India’s Digvijay Sharma details why increased agility and reliability in networks will be key to sustaining remote education, and ensuring students can continue with their studies seamlessly. This article was originally published in Communications Today.
For most of India, educators’ first brush with technology came with having to quickly adapt to virtual classes on Zoom and figure out how to shift lessons to a digital format due to the pandemic. As students look ahead to fall, now is the time for telecommunications service providers to help educators prepare an infrastructure that can support digital classroom tools that the next generation can leverage for their success. By focusing on the network, telecommunications companies can play a crucial role in providing educators and students with tools like streaming video, mixed-reality, gamification, and online global collaboration.
As both digital habits and reliance on technology during the pandemic have spurred new ways of interacting with others, and working habits, digital transformation in the education sector – especially after a year of remote classes – has never been more relevant. Taking the next step and exploring the opportunities new technologies can bring to students is vital, whether adapting to different learning styles or bringing lessons to life.
Shifting India to remote learning
In India, where students typically rely on in-person classrooms or may not even have access to schooling, network connectivity has made it possible for many kids in very remote parts of the country to access education. Thanks in part to the government’s initiatives to provide academic books online and digital lessons, students can have a more interactive and meaningful experience that might not have been possible before. Or, students can learn new skills that was not possible until remote education.
Despite the visible digital divide in the country, rural families have shown resilience toward learning as 11 percent of all rural families invested in a new phone, 80 percent of which were smartphones, since the start of the first lockdown in the country. These devices allowed children in these areas to continue their education despite the closure of physical schools.
From National Digital Library to the government’s DIKSHA education initiative or even the Swayam Prabha platform, there are many new ways to access quality education without spending any additional money. Additionally, online learning platforms like Byju’s, Toppr, upGrad, and Meritnation are making teaching more personalized and experiential.
Gamification is another concept that employs digital tools to help enrich the learning experience and engage students. The strategic use of games in the classroom can provide new ways of exploring topics that are often difficult to teach, like coding or languages. Technologies in the classroom allow students opportunities to appreciate the global world we live in and interact with other students in different corners of India and the world.
Supporting teachers and students to make networks more versatile means networks must take the next step to evolve and become faster, closer to the user, smarter, and more reliable.
Digital learning depends on the network
Though these initiatives from the government and private players have brought in the most significant reform in the Indian education system in several decades, it has still been challenging.
In India, most new internet users access the internet for the first time through mobile devices rather than a computer or laptop. It is no different when it comes to digital education. The lack of Wi-Fi networks in many areas, therefore, forces students to rely on 3G networks that may not provide the seamless experience they need to learn and complete school tasks.
Having latency-sensitive and bandwidth-intensive education applications work properly is up to networks. As we have seen in other similarly demanding digital initiatives, like autonomous vehicles or smart cities, the key lies in ensuring networks are built and managed accordingly. Substandard network experience, like a frozen screen or buffering, impact the learning experience, with students losing interest and falling behind schedule. Disruptions due to technology impact teacher performance, and cause aversion toward using technologies in the future once they have experienced issues.
Faster networks will drive the next era of education
Even as India awaits the 5G spectrum auction and subsequent launch of services, there is still one way to improve the reliability and speeds of networks, allowing the operators to boost digital education.
Telecommunication companies need to ensure that education networks are up to providing these services, so networks are not overwhelmed, and quality of experience is preserved. Networks used in the education sector typically have separate devices for network functions (like firewalls, routers, and switching), reactive network management, and manual processes that slow down the resolution of network issues and make implementing new technologies difficult.
Supporting teachers and students to make networks more versatile means networks must take the next step to evolve and become faster, closer to the user, smarter, and more reliable. Faster networks give the capacity, and data speed needed to process video chats and collaboration with students on the other side of the village, city, or country. The edge networks, which are typically located closer to the user, allow data to be processed nearby, and cut down on latency that could make or break a mixed-reality experience.
Moreover, the country needs network densification by leveraging fiber as the current density of optical fiber remains inadequate, as per several reports. Densification of the network will help in making 5G a success story in the country.
Smarter networks with automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and analytics facilitate efficient network management, allowing it to be controlled from a central location – giving peace of mind to educators and students who depend on the network for a superior learning experience. By taking these steps, telecommunication companies can do their part in ushering in a new, more digitally inclusive era of education.