Ultra-fast 35G wireless technology has been touted as a potentially transformative development element, in line with the electricity of its time. This is not just an exaggeration. One area where # 5G will play a crucial role is in the quest to reach the 2030 agenda for sustainable development (UN Sustainable Development Goals), which was unanimously adopted FN in 2015.
Think about Sustainability Goal 4, which is about "ensuring inclusive, equitable and good education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all." This is important for achieving all the other sustainability goals, such as Goal 1 of eradicating all forms of poverty worldwide. The UNDP's multidimensional poverty index shows that of all the deficiencies affecting the poor – from inadequate nutrition to lack of access to clean water and sanitation – the lack of good education is one of the most important barriers to social mobility.
The unfortunate effects of missing utdanning as a person grows older. And since the children of uneducated adults are less likely to attend school, inadequate education is an important contribution to poverty across generations.
It is easy to see how this can undermine the achievement of other sustainability goals. An uneducated workforce is an unskilled workforce, poorly suited to ensure employee productivity (Sustainability Goal 8), close income inequality (Sustainability Goal 10) or build strong institutions (Sustainability Goal 16). UNESCO expects that in low-income countries, one extra year of education will extend a person's average life expectancy by about ten percent.
Ensuring good education is also closely linked to the goal of gender equality (Sustainability Goal 5). In Africa, women spend an average of one year on education. In more vulnerable countries – such as the Central African Republic, Chad and Niger – women are expected to complete six years of schooling. IN eritrea the figure is only four years. Not surprisingly, men earn an average of 1,6 times more than women.
Children of educated women are more likely to attend school than
Women with more education take better care of their personal health, marry later and have fewer children. This leads to better health for both mother and child. In addition, children of educated women are more likely to attend school than others; This creates a good circle of progress over several generations. The obvious question is how to achieve universal quality education in a continent like Africa, where schooling can be prohibitively expensive for many. When 85 per cent of the poor living in the countryside live, accessibility is a major problem. Should all children in Africa South of Sahara get schooling, one would have to build a new school every hour from now until 2030.
Although the governments of the region had the money needed for such a rapid development (which they do not have), they would have to provide the necessary plot land and ensure that the schools were available to a sufficient number of students. These measures would be subject to complex procurement procedures with tight deadlines. Teachers also had to be educated and deployed.
This may not be impossible, but it is not easy to do either. It would be better to leverage the capabilities of 5G technology to provide enhanced distance learning. It would eliminate the need for widespread use of land and civil engineering and limit procurement processes to investments in technology itself. These investments would not be as difficult to secure as the use of # 5G extends far beyond the education sector.
Distance learning has already begun to accelerate in some parts of the world. But 5G would significantly improve the quality of such learning, simply because of the speed – up to 100 times faster than 4G – which would allow for instant interactivity, without using much energy. This means that instead of watching videos of teachers who are far away, students in remote African villages would be able to attend school hours in real time.
This would also involve a vast expanded reserve of qualified teachers available to educate young Africans. With volunteers who will be able to teach wherever they are, there will be no need to educate local teachers or hire foreign teachers to underprivileged areas, with all the bureaucratic challenges that this entails.
In addition to facilitating traditional schooling, 5G provides opportunities for completely new approaches to learning. For example, gloves with motion sensors could be used to track and store the movements of an expert – from a pianist to a surgeon – in real time, using 5G technology. This information can then be uploaded into a skills database available to students.
Chinese doctors are already working on procedures to use virtual reality technology and 3D imagery to enable a surgeon to assist with an operation thousands of miles away. It has already been possible to perform certain types of remote surgery for a few years, but the speed of 5G connection provides important new opportunities – not only to save the lives of patients who do not have access to doctors with the relevant expertise, but also to the training of medical students.
The challenges of reaching UN Sustainability Goals is scary. But an effective tool for overcoming these challenges is already here. African governments must work together not only to invest in 5G networks, but also to seize all the opportunities that these networks open up – including good education for all.
Translated by Lasse Takle.
Also read: Who is the 5G revolution for?