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Closing the Digital Divide? WiFi on Busses

Example of Digital Divide: Girl doing homework with school bus wifi
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Example of Digital Divide: Girl doing homework with school bus wifiAs internet skills become increasingly important and teachers incorporate more and more technology into the classroom, the digital divide widens. The digital divide, the social and economic inequality created by lack of access to technology, is growing and there is no more critical technological tool than internet access. With internet homework becoming increasingly popular, students with no wifi or high-speed internet at home are at a distinct disadvantage. 

If educators, taking into consideration their less fortunate students, stop requiring internet homework, everyone loses out. With such a drastic measure, all students will be missing out on the opportunity to develop the skills and reap the many benefits of the internet, including access to information, collaboration and communication. On the other hand, teachers can’t require every student to have internet at home. The solution is to find a way to provide internet access to all students outside of school. This is quite a daunting feat in poor and rural areas. 

In a certain sense, asking students to do internet homework is no different than assigning library research in the pre-internet days. In that scenario, the students whose parents were unable to take them to a library missed out. However, while bringing a library to each student after hours would be quite a daunting task, providing internet access can be much simpler. It just requires some funding, innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. 

Some school districts have come up with innovative solutions for bridging the digital divide. The Coachella Valley Unified School District in California, among others, has put WiFi in all of its school busses so students can do internet homework on the long drive to and from school. In this rural area, even those who could afford to put an internet connection in their homes, were often rejected by service providers who were unwilling to set up access for them. Some of Coachella’s busses park overnight in accessible areas so students can hop on and get to work. 

Increasing access to busses with WiFi is one solution, but it doesn’t come without complications. If busses are left open overnight, that means anyone, including those who are not students, can come on in, possibly taking spots away from the students who need them or causing damage to the busses. There is also the issue of supervision. If students of various ages are sitting together unsupervised for many hours on the bus, that leaves everyone vulnerable to bullying and worse. 

Even with the ingenious solution of access to busses with WiFi in place, students without an internet connection at home are still at a disadvantage. They have to find a way to get to these busses after hours or rely on the morning commute to get everything done. There are many students who go to libraries or restaurants with WiFi, or even stand outside school buildings late into the night to make sure they get the work don. These solutions, while workable, are still not ideal for young children. Would you want you kids or students traveling, standing outside in the dark or sitting on unsupervised busses just so they could do their homework?

Bridging the digital divide is a complex task that still needs lots of work and out of the box thinking. Putting WiFi on school busses is a step in the right direction but the struggle is far from over. What solutions have you found to bridging the digital divide? Are there other ways for us to provide internet access to students in disadvantaged or rural areas? We would love to hear from you.

8 Responses to Closing the Digital Divide? WiFi on Busses

  1. Greg says:

    Great article Erit.

    At Kajeet, closing the Digital Divide is our passion. We’ve worked with more than 175 schools / districts, including many in rural areas, to provide their students affordable, filtered hotspots “SmartSpots” for outside the classroom use. Students are able to access the educational websites they need for school homework and projects but not steaming (e.g. Netflix), social, and adult websites. All at 4G LTE speeds.

    Like mentioned in the article, Kajeet can provide filtered, Internet connectivity on school bus fleets as well, the “SmartBus”.

  2. Having satellite linkup can be cost effective if it is done for whole remote communities. I have seen this applied in remote Fiji and the internet connection bypassed dated local communication infrastructure and linked straight to the provider in Singapore. The school kids using passworded access could get a workable internet speed at the same time.

    • Erit Rabinowitz says:

      That sounds great, Casper. If school districts provide internet access to whole communities, adults can benefit as well. Perhaps in that case the costs could be shared among other entities and not fall solely on the school district.

  3. Laurie Griffin says:

    In one high school that I worked, we implemented using Kajeet hotspots. One issue that we had was that some parts of our county were so rural and had no cellar service.

    • Erit Rabinowitz says:

      That sounds like a creative solution to the challenge of ensuring that students have internet access for school work. Perhaps a combination of mobile hotspots and WiFi buses could work in an area with limited cell service. Thanks for your input Laurie!

  4. Susan Irwin says:

    We have zero buses in our District and we have zero textbooks this fall (Aug 2016) for the newly adopted NGSS CA DOE standards. In other words, there is NO curriculum being supplied; we have to create it for 7th gr science. There is an online textbook available, but as you mention, not ALL students have access at home, when they will need it.

    We can let/encourage them use the Library before school (if open), during break, lunch, or after school (if open), but some will and some won’t. We’re rather in a pickle. Any ideas?

  5. Erit Rabinowitz says:

    Wow, Susan, that is a challenge! Is it possible to keep the school computer labs open after school with supervision for a few hours? Perhaps you can implement some sort of incentive system for students who take advantage of the additional library hours. Are there accessible local libraries where students can work? Perhaps the mobile hot spots mentioned by Laurie above could help you. This seems like a worthy cause for a GoFundMe campaign! Also, you might want to look into grants like this one http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/community-connect-grants (which is closed, but perhaps there will be other similar opportunities in the future). Good luck to you and your students!

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