How 5G can help educators make the best of remote learning
This spring, remote learning was a scramble, as teachers – perhaps originally planning for a much shorter disruption – hastily set up free tools like Zoom and sending Khan Academy videos to supplement lessons for younger students, while colleges and universities posted lectures on YouTube. Governments were focused on the public health aspects of the crisis.
Now we know, as the 2020/2021 school year rolls along, that remote learning, at least in some form, is going to be with us for a long time. It’s worth thinking about the more profound structural changes that need to take place to make remote learning as effective as possible and how, with the right investments from government leaders, 5G can help bring it all to life.
Here are some considerations for educators and public officials as we come to terms with remote learning:
It can’t all be virtual – but virtual can open new doors
There are some things about the in-person educational experience that are difficult to replicate with even the best remote technology. The social aspect of education suffers when learning remotely, and certain hands-on experiences can’t be taught through a screen. However, the opposite is also true – there are things educators can do through remote learning that they could have never done in a classroom, especially when freed from wired Internet connections and powered by 5G. More crowdsourcing and “social swarming” can help meet that social need in remote learning.
Remote learning can also introduce brand-new educational experiences. For example, a fifth-grade class is learning about waterfalls. Why not take a virtual trip to Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfalls? A 5G-enabled virtual reality tour could bring students to ‘the falls’ up close, showing their scale and power in a way students can’t get from a textbook. And this is an experience students wouldn’t be able to have in a classroom, even if they weren’t learning remotely.
Mobile internet can fill the gaps in areas without fixed broadband coverage
As we think about the infrastructure needed to run a remote learning program smoothly, there are many places with access to good, high-speed internet that will enable students to learn without interruption. But what about some of the areas that don’t currently have the bandwidth levels required to live stream a teacher’s lesson or watch a video? Many of those kids are in unconnected areas, and without reliable access to the internet, may suffer from the digital divide.
Because it doesn’t require digging trenches or connecting lines, wireless service is quicker to put in place than traditional wired or fiber-based internet. Ericsson worked with Vermont Telephone (VTel) to bring mobile internet to high school students in Rutland, a city where many families do not have sufficient broadband connectivity for remote learning. Ericsson expedited the delivery and installation of next-generation 4G/5G wireless radios and antennas on a building in downtown Rutland. VTel delivered wireless modems and routers to homes, allowing students to receive free Internet service immediately. It all happened in less than 10 days, helping local students get the most out of remote learning.
At Ericsson, we remain committed to ensuring connectivity can enable learning for all around the globe. The Giga initiative, launched in 2019, led by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), aims to connect every school around the world to the internet. Ericsson provides data engineering and data science capacity to accelerate school connectivity mapping, ultimately working towards a future in which every child has access to digital learning opportunities.
Geography is no longer a barrier with remote learning
At the higher levels of education, 5G-enabled remote learning will empower the idea that you can learn anywhere – and at any time. High-caliber professors will be able to teach in more than one university, interacting with students in real-time. They’ll also be able to collaborate more easily with colleagues in an environment connected by mobile wireless technology.
What these students are learning will also change. This is a movement that was already underway but is being accelerated by the COVID-19 environment. There will be a resurgence of the new trades, like 3D printing, robotic technicians, and artificial intelligence. 5G will play a significant role in applying these fields and how they’re taught as well. In particular, AI has been floated as a tool to help us cope with, or even end, the pandemic, but only if people have a full understanding of what the technology is. UNESCO and Ericsson recently launched the Teaching AI for K-12 Portal to help build that fundamental curriculum for young people.
5G can be the infrastructure for our new educational normal
Cellular technology and the IoT have enabled education to continue, serving as connective tissue, bringing reliability to areas where fixed wired connections aren’t always available. As students, parents, and educators adjust to the new normal of remote learning, 5G, in particular, can deliver new meaning, bringing students together with expert voices and unique experiences from around the globe.
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