How technology can transform health and education in India

Doctors remotely monitor live footages of patients inside an electronic intensive care unit (eICU) at Fortis hospital in New Delhi, India, January 20, 2016.

Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - GF10000295464

Nitin Bansal
Managing Director India and Head of Network Solutions, Market Area South East Asia, Oceania and India, Ericsson
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This article is part of: India Economic Summit

Easy and ubiquitous access to education and quality healthcare forms the fundamentals of any society and makes a huge contribution to the development of a country. Even as one can see considerable progress in the growing number of schools, colleges, nursing homes, hospitals across the nation, it still is insufficient to meet the needs of India’s 1.3 billion citizens. Also, given the country’s size and diversity, a lot more is required to bring the benefits of education and quality healthcare to hundreds of millions. As technology continues to transform our society, it is evident that innovations in Information Communications Technology (ICT) can help meet the challenges in these sectors as well.

Remote healthcare

Healthcare and education as such are not standardized globally and access is impacted by various factors such as poverty and geography. According to the Medical Council of India, the doctor-population ratio stands at 1:1681, assuming 80% of these doctors are available on any given day. From seeing a specialist oncologist to getting a simple ailment diagnosed, a sizeable percentage of the population cannot reach or afford to pay the healthcare professionals they need to treat them. However, constant technological innovations are radically transforming healthcare. In recent times, the advent of automation technologies and remote health monitoring and the concept of artificial intelligence have promised an accurate and optimized delivery of healthcare across the globe.

As an example, ICT does not only benefit medical practitioners in remote areas through the exchange of information between primary and specialty care health professionals, but also enables them to obtain a second opinion to help with diagnosis. This helps in strengthening cooperation between health professionals and improves coordination.

It can also improve the quality of healthcare and reduce costs and unnecessary travel for patients. For example, our Device Connection Platform, which runs solutions that simplifies insulin-treated diabetes by gathering and sharing data between patient and healthcare professional through a unified connected device.

In telecoms circles, we have started talking about 5G and the impact it will have on our society. In fact, healthcare is one of the top areas that 5G can add immense value to. The introduction of 5G with ultra-low latency of a few milliseconds and multi gigabit bandwidth will enable reliable communication that has the ability to perform mission critical procedures.

Let’s take remote surgery - to operate safely a surgeon needs to be able to react to physical and visual stimuli in under 10 milliseconds. When operating remotely, these stimuli will need to be delivered over a network, but the time required to compress and decompress video content vastly exceeds the safe reaction time. With 5G supporting the solution, these problems are neatly sidestepped. 5G connectivity enables much greater bandwidth usage, while intelligent network slicing separates and prioritizes mission-critical functions, such as machine communication, which is required for the surgery. Most importantly, the low-latency attributes of 5G means the haptic feedback is felt in near real-time through the surgeon’s gloves.

Addressing education through technology

ICT can also transform education. While the literacy rate in the country may have gone up to 74.4%, it is uneven. Another big challenge has been to keep students at school and improve their learning outcomes. As per the last survey by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), an average of 326 out of 1,000 students in rural areas are dropping out, while the same number stands at 383 per 1,000 in urban areas. In addition, many students who are enrolled in formal education are not acquiring the skills and competencies they need to succeed in knowledge based economies. Education should enable young people to improve and enhance their employability skills.

There are twofold benefits that technology can enable in India as far as learning and education are concerned – make education more accessible and make learning more impactful. Concepts like remote learning and digital classrooms have been instrumental in taking education to the remotest corners of the country; these concepts continue to evolve. Moreover, falling smartphone prices and easy access to internet have brought about a sea change in the way students interact with subjects.

Evidence indicates that basic computer training programmes, retail management skills and proficiency in spoken and written English can substantially improve the chances of young people finding a job. Girls and boys get a foothold in their journey of lifelong learning by being enrolled in simple programmes which expose them to technology. We're using Connect To Learn (CTL) for imparting basic training in computers, soft skills and personality development, retail and management skills, along with proficiency in spoken and written English to young people. This project aims to increase employment opportunities for this core group through ICT training, job-oriented skills and placement assistance. The project has trained 14669 students and about 52% of those trained have been placed in jobs.

Girls, in particular, face more barriers to education and this leaves them vulnerable. With quality education, girls have a much greater chance to earn a decent living, raise a healthy family, and improve their quality of life. In fact, a World Bank study found that for every year of secondary school education a girl completes, her future earning power increases by 18%. In India, we work with several organizations with the goal of increasing self-development opportunities for 15,000 girls aged 15-25, providing tutorial support on subjects like math, science, and English. We try to reach girls and young women within their own communities to avoid the challenge of limited mobility, and also work to raise awareness among girls on issues related to their safety and security.

The future

As technology continues to transform society, those responsible for our current systems of healthcare as well as education are facing overwhelming pressure to adapt. By embracing the power of ICT we can enhance our education and healthcare services to make a difference in our country.

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