Will students really use Wi-Fi on school buses to do their homework?

A flurry of reaction on Facebook to an FCC proposal that would provide funding for Wi-Fi on school buses suggests there are big potential benefits and drawbacks to the idea.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced a proposal on May 11 that would allow the use of federal E-rate funding for Wi-Fi in school buses. The proposal would clarify that the use of Wi-Fi, or similar access-point technologies, on school buses “serves an educational purpose” and is therefore eligible for E-Rate funding.

Proponents of the proposal believe that buses can be learning spaces for students and putting Wi-Fi on buses can help close the homework gap that exists between students who have reliable Wi-Fi at home and those who don’t.

Some Facebook users were supportive of the proposal, saying it would provide opportunities for students to get their work done.

“I always did my homework on the bus, either on the way home or on the way to sporting events as a player…it was an efficient use of time. Of course, back in those days it was all on paper. Why shouldn’t kids now have the same opportunities? Sure, there will be kids who use it to do other activities online, like gaming, etc., but not everyone is going to use the time wisely no matter what. Why not give students the opportunity?” – Nancy D.

“Have you ever not been able to afford WiFi? Do you live in an area without WiFi? Do you know what it’s like to take your kid to McDonalds for hours just for the WiFi? I’m not saying that kids will always use it wisely, but I am saying that people whose children do not have the same advantages appreciate the opportunity for their child to get their work done.” – Tanya A.

Many others, however, criticized the plan, saying students will use the Wi-Fi for non-academic purposes, such as watching YouTube or TikTok or playing games. Some people pointed out that schools can restrict access to certain sites, but others said kids know how to get around those.

“School purposes? LOL Maybe, and that is a big maybe, 2 in 10 students will use it for that purpose. Most will be using it to play games or watch videos.” – Mary R.

“Here’s how it will really go down. The kids will use the wifi to watch YouTube and TikTok. Technology in education has made students dumber.” – Joseph M.

Some people also expressed concerns about who would oversee what students are using school bus Wi-Fi for, saying that bus drivers already have enough to monitor.

“Who pray tell will monitor the student devices to ensure they are being used for school purposes? Money would be better spent by hiring an aide for every bus so that drivers aren’t simultaneously getting kids home and managing their behaviors.” – Jessica K.

“How about we make sure we have enough buses and drivers 1st? There is a bus at our school that has over 50 kids on it! They are in there like a bunch of sardines!” – Kelly B.

Supporters say that this proposal will be beneficial to students in rural areas, those who have really long commutes, and those who commute to school-sponsored activities because they will be able to do something productive while on the bus.

School buses equipped with Wi-Fi could also be used as mobile hotspots for areas that don’t have access to broadband or have limited connectivity. For example, the Coachella Unified School District in California implemented a program that put Wi-Fi on school buses to provide mobile hotspots for students in the high-poverty district.

Consortium for School Networking CEO Keith Krueger said the proposal would be used for “filtered, safe-school access” to the internet.

“School districts work pretty hard at making sure that if you’re coming through the school network, it’s filtered,” he said. “Now what students do on their own devices on their own networks, that’s not what the E-Rate pays for. The E-Rate pays for filtered [access].”

And because the internet is filtered, there would be no need for bus drivers to monitor what students are using the Wi-Fi for, Krueger pointed out. Some school districts that have already equipped buses with Wi-Fi have seen that it decreased the number of bus discipline referrals and made the ride quieter.