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According to a new survey from Kajeet and School Transportation News, internet connectivity on buses has many benefits.
Corinne Lestch is a staff reporter covering education for EdScoop and its affiliate public sector technology news websites, FedScoop and StateScoop...
Providing kids with internet access while they travel to and from school could solve a busload of problems, according to a recent survey.
With Wi-Fi on school buses, the top benefit for students would be the ability to complete homework as they go to and from school, according to the survey, released by wireless provider Kajeet, in conjunction with School Transportation News.
Other benefits, ranked in order of importance, included a decrease in bus behavior problems; an increase in bus driver retention, since they don't have to spend time disciplining students; and the ability to "park" the bus to turn it into an internet hotspot.
"School administrators view this as a mobile classroom," said Daniel Neal, CEO and founder of Kajeet. "Students are working on educational activities and are focused, decreasing bus behavior incidents."
According to the report, 87 percent of respondents want certain websites to be filtered as part of their school bus Wi-Fi program. “We call [our buses] classrooms on wheels. If it's not acceptable in the classroom, it's not acceptable on the bus,” said Julie Nemmers, director of transportation at Spencer Community School District in Iowa.
Along with filtering, about 80 percent of respondents said they wanted to better understand how data from online school bus activity is being used.
School administrators also care about data availability – 74 percent want students to be able to connect without running out of data – and 69 percent ranked high-speed connections and the ability to share data across fleets as important.
But the difference between a wish list and the reality is stark. About 50 percent of respondents from the Midwest and Southwest have, or are considering, connected school buses. That's followed by 44 percent of respondents in the West, 40 percent of the Southeast and nearly 40 percent of the Northeast.
Still, Neal told EdScoop, "We are seeing an uptick in interest for Wi-Fi on school buses."
"Districts are mostly entertaining the idea, but few jump right in to outfit a whole fleet with Wi-Fi," he said. "The survey was conducted to get a better benchmark at where administrators are in considering Wi-Fi on buses. As Kajeet continues to innovate and work with various partners in the space, we want to be sure we’re heading in the right direction."
The wireless provider has partnered with hundreds of schools and districts across the country to offer Kajeet SmartBus. The solution offers filtered Wi-Fi for school buses, which can be installed or portable. It includes a cellular router and a portal to Kajeet's managed cloud platform.
According to Neal, on average, students spend 20 instructional days out of the year traveling to and from school on the bus — a perfect excuse to turn "travel time into instructional time," he said.
He said the biggest challenge is spotty cell coverage in certain areas — but offered his product as an answer.
"We partner with three of the major U.S. wireless providers to expand coverage," he said. "We can also use more than one carrier at a time on a single bus to eliminate 'dead' zones."
Neal said the benefits of school bus Wi-Fi extend beyond just finishing the night's homework.
"Even students with home broadband benefit from bus Wi-Fi by completing homework on the bus and freeing up afternoons and evenings for extracurricular activities, part-time jobs [and] family time," he said.
More than 300 school administrators in 45 states were surveyed about school bus Wi-Fi.