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Imaginative bridges over digital divide

Albert Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited and imagination encircles the world.”

Some imaginative school systems across the country are helping kids get online by using in-vehicle networks to expand the reach of internet. Technology used in trucking and other industries can be used to allow students Wi-Fi access while they ride buses to and from school. When schools are closed in the summer or for any reason during the year, buses can serve as mobile units like bookmobiles. They carry Wi-Fi to remote areas and allow students to establish connectivity.

In South Carolina, Google buses are changing the students’ attitudes toward doing homework and riding on the bus. Bus drivers say they can focus on safer driving while the children are focused on doing homework.

Teachers report that students are ready to learn after they have done their virtual learning assignments on the way to school.

Many students ride as much as 45 minutes to school and back, and they really like the fact that they can use transportation time to get homework done and have time to play outside before dinner.

One of the most interesting things about listening to South Carolina students who use internet on school buses is that they know appropriate vocabulary for technology used by educated people. Research shows that vocabulary is the most important advantage that children of educated people acquire at home before they go to school. Making virtual learning available is one subtle way we can give students opportunities to learn language as well as math and science skills.

West Virginia has several counties with in-vehicle Wi-Fi on school buses. In Kanawha every bus has Wi-Fi, and several other counties have it on the buses that go to the most remote locations where kids cannot reach high-speed internet. West Virginia Department of Education has not required in-vehicle Wi-Fi in the past, but it is obvious that children without high-speed internet options have been at a great disadvantage during the Covid-19 shutdown.

Most middle-class kids in Elkins could join Zoom meetings with teachers, but no required school work could be done online in Randolph County because too many students did not have internet access.

Child poverty limits opportunity in many ways, and rural poverty increases the distance that separates children in remote areas from access to online learning. Students without access to high-speed internet are on the wrong side of the “Digital Divide.”

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