Dr. John Naylon, CTO and co-founder, Cambridge Broadband Networks discusses why education is at the heart of the digital economy
The introduction of the internet into classrooms is a necessity for the digitisation of education. Much of the modern-day curriculum now incorporates online courses and requires students to have access to the web.
The development of better and more accessible internet access has tangible advantages for education. Teachers and students have new ways to study, plan class activities and present information. Web-based classes, interactive teaching and streamlined research methods are just a few examples of the positive impact being online has for education.
The connected classroom
Introducing the internet into classrooms will transform the experience of children and teachers around the world. Getting it to them cost-effectively is therefore key. Schools that have high-speed broadband get to take advantage of tools like video conferencing and lecture playback. They may wish to put their attendance records online and manage them centrally. They will also be able to share knowledge with other schools that are also linked to the network. This could enable clusters of schools to create an ecosystem that can share information and best practice seamlessly, all while better serving the needs of school children in the area and the future needs of the economy. Communities with access to the Internet means pupils can access lessons remotely even if they are unable to get to school.
Enriched education isn’t the only benefit, though, of high-speed connectivity. Other services needing Internet access could be supplied such as security CCTV systems for children and staff. We know this from our work connecting more than 170 buildings with 200Mbps high speed broadband, including, nurseries, primary schools, high schools and social support centres in the Polish city,
Rzeszów. With physical safety being one of the biggest barriers to accessing education in developing countries, these security capabilities could help to provide a safer environment and hopefully increase attendance rates.
Every school child should be able to experience the benefits of this technology. According to the United Nations’ The State of Broadband report, 76% of European citizens do currently have access to the internet. Yet, by contrast, just 21.8% of citizens in Africa have internet access and, more surprising still, 52% of the world's population still have no internet access at all.
The link between internet access and the expansion of digital education, not to mention economic growth, are facts universally acknowledged. In fact, the digital dividend stipulates that, controlling for other factors, a 10% increase in broadband penetration causes GDP to increase by at least 1.4%. For communities in Africa that still lack connectivity, this represents a huge opportunity.
The main challenge, however, is a lack of quality network infrastructure and the costs associated with making the necessary improvements. In Africa particularly, governments must overcome the challenge of connecting communities dispersed across great distances and find a way to provide cost-effective and sustainable internet access that can deliver on last-mile connectivity.
A simple and cost-effective solution
To tackle this, African governments and politicians around the world need to work with traditional operators, with expertise in deploying vast telecommunications networks, to explore the potential for high-capacity wireless networks that can be easily expanded, shared and connected. If costs represent the biggest challenge to connectivity, the greatest return on investment is to connect customers quickly. This is because the revenue generated by a customer is recurring, whereas the cost to connect the customer is mostly a one-time expense. Since wireless coverage can normally be brought into service far more rapidly than wired coverage, it makes sense to focus on implementing wireless connectivity.
Fixed Wireless Access connectivity deployed in a hub and spoke topology is a quick and convenient way to deploy a reliable network for providing Internet access to communities including homes and schools. If deployed in the microwave and millimetre wave spectrum frequencies between 10 and 40GHz the resulting network provides the power, speed and scale needed for ubiquitous connectivity. Although this requires specialist skills, such networks are deployed throughout not just Africa but also across the US, Europe and the rest of the world. For schools that have already deployed, they are already seeing the benefits.
There are projects around the world where millimetre wave Fixed Wireless Access services are being leveraged to create a central connectivity hub for tens of thousands of schools and governments across the country. Not only will those schools benefit from more enriched teaching, they will have access to video conferencing and lecture playback services which can be shared not only between classes within the same school but also between schools.
Education is at the heart of all future development and, in Africa, the deployment of broadband technologies to rural communities will accelerate the adoption of digital technology in schools and support long term economic growth for the future. Internet access will kick-start a revolution, and not just for education. It will bring about a smarter, more digital economy. By leveraging technical solutions such as mmWave Fixed Wireless Access, education will be more accessible and enriched, both in Africa and around the world.
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