Students in Council Grove can get a jump-start on homework thanks to Wi-Fi on their school buses. The technology is a partnership between the Morris County school system, Google and the Consortium for School Networking, a national nonprofit organization.
The goal of the technology is to give students more time, and more internet access, to complete web-based assignments.
As schools consolidate and districts consider ways to cut costs, many students spend large amounts of time on school buses. It’s fairly common for students in rural districts to spend an hour or more each way getting to school. With school resources and assignments increasingly web-based, students often had to wait until getting home to start homework or find ways to complete assignments at school if internet access was difficult at home.
The technology gives students the ability to make the most of travel time by completing assignments. Four dedicated teachers have even volunteered to work on the buses as traveling tutors, adding instruction time.
The program is a clever way to help students get more out of their school days, but it also serves as a step to reduce inequitable access to technology. A digital divide exists between urban and rural students in the United States with real implications. A survey administered to students taking the national ACT test last year found students living in rural areas were more likely to lack internet access at home or find it unreliable.
Much of that gap can be attributed to rural areas being less likely to have access to broadband internet, the type needed to stream audio, video, data and graphics. The digital divide limits access to educational resources and future career prospects.
"I came from a rural part of Kansas, so I can appreciate how much time school kids in the state spend on the buses," said Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai during a dedication event in Council Grove. "Being connected, having a platform to the outside world is going to be a game changer."
The technology, called “Rolling Study Halls” by the school district, will start on four buses with Wi-Fi provided via a portable system of servers and antennas that can be moved between buses as needed.
Students traveling across the state to an extracurricular activity may also be able to use the system. The technology is also equipped with filters that limit what students can access, keeping their focus on educational resources. Students are positive about the move, as are bus drivers, who find busy students easier to manage safely.
Our schools are under enormous pressure to do more for students with limited resources. Rolling study halls are a wonderful way to give youths more access to study time while preparing them for an increasingly digital world.