Saturday, December 19, 2015

5G: Impact on Education & Training

You may be excused if you want to take this with a spoonful of salt, or think of this as sci-fi. But I would rather dream on and take a peek into the future. Some reports put the 5G launch to 2020, but most of us in India will be happy with a 4G by then. I don't intend to argue on when this will happen, but I would definitely want to foresee what will happen to education when it happens. Before that, let's get some 5G basics right:
Source: (

  1. For a full HD movie of 8 GB size, 3G speed should take a few hours (the above illustration shows much more!), 4G speed should take 6 minutes, but a 5G speed should take a mere 3-6 seconds! 
  2. Even more importantly, latency in 5G should come down to 1 millisecond from 50 milliseconds in 4G. What it implies is that the devices will be able to interact with each other much quicker. So, the response from a remote learner's iPad can reach a teacher's laptop in a flash.

There is no consensus on these figures yet, but experts broadly agree on similar scales. In any case, it looks to be too futuristic to begin a debate on a few thousands of bits. So, if we go by these estimates, what difference will we see in how people will learn in the future?

Let me take a parallel in defense applications where technological innovations deliver a mission-critical advantage before a civil application is made feasible. In the days of our Maharajas fighting battles, the speed of information would determine changing strategies and a win or loss. An army waiting for reinforcements a thousand miles away depended on pigeons to know the status. From those times, transition to the modern warfare where a missile can manoeuvre itself to follow a moving target based on a GPS tracking capability. The critical factor that has changed the scenario is the response time to a stimulus.

In the educational context, imagine training a batch of mechanical engineering students on machining. The trainer might just connect with an alumnus working in the industry to show the machining processes Live. A more structured approach could enable the alumnus give a case study and a project based on the organization's existing requirements. A sure outcome of this would be a better matched and trained work force for an organization.

A group of school students in India might interact with 20 more classrooms from across the world to work on a project involving best practices adoption in environmental awareness. We know how traveling in foreign cultures opens up a person's mind and helps her come out of the shell. Any of my visits to a foreign country has always made me a better citizen back home. Interacting with students from other countries or states, and the ability to talk to them live on a video call can be a much better education than in a closed wall classroom.

To seriously contemplate the seemingly impossible task of training 500 million people by 2022 (of which NSDC has achieved about 1.3% till 2015, with all the good intentions and projects), we need to explore entirely new ways of doing training. With a communication technology like 5G available on mobile, without the need to setup wired infrastructure, a group of young men and women in a remote village can be trained by working professionals directly from their work environs. Imagine having a live and interactive video feed from a drone in a machining workshop that can move around and talk to the operators when they can explain a few things to the trainees.

Just the other day, I got the Google Cardboard to explore what is available. The most interesting part of the VR idea is that a teacher may someday be able to create VR models for her class just like we create word docs today. Coupled with 5G speeds, the VR technology will make it possible for a class in Lucknow full of inquisitive children to make an interactive tour of an educational excursion being conducted by another teacher in Bengaluru's Science Museum! On a real time basis, the teacher's head mounted device will convert the environ into VR and the students in the Lucknow class will be interacting displays on their own individually!

My head is dizzy thinking of the possibilities....Dream on :-)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Cinema and education

You might have seen the Hindi movie, Drishyam, or its original Malayalam version by the same name.

Apart from the fact that the movie has a very terse narrative and direction, one dialogue struck me the most. The female lead in the Hindi version, played superbly by Tabu, wonders how the "fourth-grade fail" cable businessman (played by Ajay Devgn) could be so "smart"! And then she makes a very pertinent observation after a colleague remarks on Ajay Devgn's penchant for watching movies. She simply says that the cinema angle is important in this context.

Theatrics and Tabu's attribution to her industry aside, can cinema actually educate an illiterate? It looks like an over-simplistic solution to India's education woes. But does it deserve any merit? I would hazard a "Yes" for that answer, though the kind of education that I am talking about is quite unlike what is taught in our schools and colleges. Would Ajay Devgn's character have learnt from his school all the things that he learnt from his countless hours of watching movies? That is a definite "No". Our education system doesn't gear us for real-life challenges, not to mention the ones this movie talks about!

The things that I could learn from Hindi cinema are values, traditions, strategy, leadership, communication, problem-solving (of the real kind), patriotism, history, geography and culture, to name a few. Some of them are, of course, dealt with at various stages in schools and colleges, but the focus tends to be on completing the syllabus and securing good grades. At the same time, a viewer can also acquire dangerously different connotations of the same elements that I mentioned above, depending on his/ her state of mind, social context and the atmosphere itself within the theatre. A rape scene, for instance, may have two diametrically opposite stimuli on two people.

Given the strange "uncontrollable" effect on a viewer, is it really possible to use cinema in classroom? I recall watching "Other people's money" with my MBA class as a part of the "Mergers and Acquisitions" subject. It completed the subject by giving it a soul. We were often told that the big deals had more of a human element than some numbers. With our dear Professor discussing the movie intermittently and expertly relating it to what we had learnt in theory, the movie has remained etched in my memory.

Movies with "a moral of the story" like Swades, Lakshya and Taare Zameen Par are easily a great source of inspiration for our children. But specific instances or characters or even dialogues have brought out the teacher in me. One particularly hilarious dialogue from the bad guy played by Prakash Raj in the 2009 hit, "Wanted", is a lesson in leadership (gone wrong). Here's the link to a "lesson plan" I thought of. This is the first of the blog piece from my new blog effort called "Lessons From Cinema".

Keep watching this space for more...