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With Digital India Accelerating At Full Speed, How Will 5G Help In Reaching Education To the Last Mile? Today, India is the world's most connected nation, with more than 800 million internet users. This surge in numbers has largely been driven by rural India coming online. Under the framework of Digital India, the nation's digital infrastructure was overhauled and upgraded to bring it in line with international standards

By Anil Nagar

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When the government introduced the Digital India campaign in 2015, its objectives were clear: improving the nation's online infrastructure and making the internet accessible to every citizen, no matter where they lived. The ultimate aim of this initiative was to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge-driven economy. In that year, India had an estimated 317 million Internet users – a little over a fourth of our population – with the vast majority of them clustered in the nation's metros and tier-1 cities.

In the years that followed, that number ballooned. Today, India is the world's most connected nation, with more than 800 million internet users. This surge in numbers has largely been driven by rural India coming online. Under the framework of Digital India, the nation's digital infrastructure was overhauled and upgraded to bring it in line with international standards. This happened in conjunction with a push by the private sector to make the internet accessible and affordable, through inexpensive smartphones and mobile data that is amongst the world's cheapest. Today, rural India accounts for over 425 million internet users.

Rural India's shift online is especially critical given the nation's demographics. 64 percent of the country's population resides outside of metros – with urban households shrinking, the next generation of students and professionals is poised to come from tier III and IV cities and towns. Educating this next generation is critical in order to maintain momentum and continue India's path towards digitisation. 5G will play a pivotal role in this endeavour.

How 5G intersects with education

Digital India has impacted virtually every sector of the country. This effect has been especially pronounced in the field of edtech. Already rapidly growing over the preceding decade, online learning platforms received a massive boost during the pandemic. Enrolment numbers soared during this period, as the improved digital connectivity enabled by 4G networks let edtech platforms scale their services to an entire generation of students.

The introduction of 5G will further accelerate this trend, especially in rural settings. This next-generation wireless network is set to improve bandwidth and reduce latency, boosting speeds and allowing for more devices to connect simultaneously. Improved download and upload speeds will make education more inclusive and drive the democratisation of learning by providing access to a wider array of resources.

For example, enhanced speeds will make video-based content a viable learning tool, without the connectivity issues and lag that have traditionally rendered it unfeasible. Similarly, the ability to video conference with professors and other students will enhance learning outcomes, support blended learning approaches, and boost the opportunity for deeper collaborations on projects and assignments.

5G connectivity will also help bridge last-mile education by enabling the introduction of advanced technologies to rural learning outcomes. New learning tools such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and Virtual Reality (VR) have gradually been implemented into edtech curriculums. However, the high demands they place on digital infrastructure have thus far limited their use to developed urban settings. With the advent of 5G, rural settings will now be able to deploy these powerful learning aids.

Rural India as the workforce of tomorrow

India's workforce will reach its greatest extent in the coming decade. With so much of this growth being driven by its rural population, it is vital to ensure that these new entrants to the workforce are equipped with the skills and knowledge required to contribute to the nation's growth. It is estimated that India's transformation into a digital economy will require 30 million skilled professionals by 2026. In order to meet this figure, the government and private edtech players must work in conjunction to provide the necessary 5G capabilities for seamless online learning.

The upgrade to 5G will also allow many working professionals to upskill and reskill themselves. Education is a lifelong process and should never be limited to any particular age. With technology advancing so rapidly, employees need to ensure their skills stay relevant in an ever-evolving workspace. Access to 5G networks will give workers across India the chance to redefine their roles in the workforce and educate themselves in an entirely new field.

India's push for a digital future now hinges upon the successful implementation of 5G nationwide. If the necessary structural upgrades to support this network can be concluded in the near future, 5G can put rural India on an even footing with its urban counterpart and truly unleash the untapped potential of our vast country.

Anil Nagar

Founder and CEO, Adda247

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