School bus WiFi is not a new concept. Large-scale pilot projects to test the viability – and the benefits – of providing students with Internet access during their daily school commutes to and from school were first held as early as a decade ago. However, a host of factors over the last few years – ranging from improvements in technology, a better understanding of student needs, and cost/budgeting considerations – significantly furthered the case for schools and districts across the country to provide their students with WiFi connectivity on school buses. Here are some of those factors.
BETTER APPLICATIONS AND CONNECTIVITY
America’s leading mobile network carriers now cover about 99% of the country, but it has taken years for 3G, 4G, and now 5G services to reach urban, suburban, and rural populations. At the same time, significant strides have been made in lowering data transfer costs, developing better and more cost-efficient IoT devices, and in the development of feature-rich software and applications that can deliver deeper, more immersive, and highly customizable learning experiences to students. Better applications, better connectivity, lower costs of data transfer, and more efficient IoT devices have made the case for bus WiFi an easy one to make.
CLOSING THE DIGITAL GAP
Over 10 million students do not have Internet access at home. With more and more teaching and learning happening remotely, and with changes being made to school curricula and learning material that increasingly require Internet connectivity or IT tools to complete, students without Internet access are at a disadvantage against their peers.
Just as the classroom can bring safe, monitored access to the Internet, school buses can do the same. If the average student traditionally spends 40 minutes on the bus every day, and if we assume that he or she only uses half of that time to connect to the Internet to catch up with or perform work that cannot be done at home because of a lack of Internet connectivity, that student will get 60 hours – or two full weeks – of additional, connected learning time on the bus over the 180 days that make up the school year.
And that’s only for connectivity while the student is on the bus. Some districts have taken things a step further by creating community hotspots for students without connectivity by installing LTE routers in salvaged vehicles and placing them within range of the homes of rural students. Others made arrangements with local businesses and local municipalities to have WiFi-equipped buses parked at strategic locations, allowing students within the connection radius of the bus’s WiFi signal to access the Internet at home after school. Parking WiFi-equipped buses in neighborhoods, mobile home parks, and apartment complexes has become increasingly popular amid distance learning.
BETTER STUDENT ENGAGEMENT
Many districts reported fewer complaints about student behavior on WiFi-connected buses. By provisioning controlled Internet access to students and by providing them with an opportunity to engage in meaningful and beneficial work while they travel to or from school, students can be better plugged into schoolwork, better connected to their teachers, more engaged, and less distracted – not just by online content, because Internet access can be restricted to school and learning-related material online, but by in-bus distractions or activities that are unhealthy for everyone, such as bullying. In fact, one district saw a 45% decrease in disciplinary referrals once WiFi was installed on their buses.
MORE THAN JUST STUDENT WIFI
School bus tech has grown quickly over the past decade. Based on a recent survey with School Transportation News, more than half of districts now have cameras, child-left-on-bus alerts, GPS, and driver radio communications. By installing WiFi on your buses, it allows you to connect all of your technologies that require an Internet connection. The benefits that this type of connectivity provide in terms of cost-savings and data-driven decision-making are hard to ignore.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to rethink how we teach, how we design course content, and how we facilitate student connectivity – especially with so many schools closed or operating in limited capacities. The concerns of many that the COVID-19 pandemic may widen the Digital Divide are well-founded, but bus WiFi, bus hotspots, and other creative connectivity ideas will be instrumental in helping students – disadvantaged students in particular, and all students in general – enjoy better Internet access and learning assistance when and where they need it most.
What IT or connectivity challenges does your school or district face? A Solutions Engineer at Kajeet can help you assess your school or district’s needs and deploy a smart IT system that secures your data, streamlines tasks and processes, and helps teachers, families, and students stay connected. To learn more about how we may be able to help you, please click here.