“Wifi on wheels”: the alternative of hundreds of kids without internet for their classes in California

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A company takes the connection in vans so that students can connect with their teachers in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

A van, a small router on the dash and an antenna on the roof: it doesn’t take much more for 200 underprivileged kids in California to access the internet and follow their remote classes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The pilot scheme is called “Wifi on wheels” and was launched by JFK Transportation, a school transportation company serving Santa Ana, south of Los Angeles.

The idea was to equip vans with internet connections and locate them at strategic points in the city to support technologically disadvantaged students, already identified by the educational authorities.

“We stayed eight hours to make sure the students are connected during the day. The Wi-Fi signal has a radius of about 350 meters,” Kevin Watson, president of JFK, explained to the AFP agency.

The connection is protected by a password that only students have access to.

“The Wi-Fi routers are 5G, very fast, and we have these antennas in the vehicles to reach most of the houses and apartments,” added the businessman, a black man who grew up and studied in these neighborhoods of Santa Ana where many families live. immigrants, often with few resources.

Each van has the capacity to connect about 200 kids. Today seven already work as part of the pilot plan that is carried out for free. Watson is in financial discussions with the school district to expand it to reach a fleet of 50 Wi-Fi vehicles.

California may be the world’s fifth largest economy, home to Silicon Valley and the world’s great tech companies, but the digital divide is a daily reality for thousands of families: a recent report estimates that 25% of school-age children in the state -more 1.5 million – do not have an adequate internet connection.

When the school year started last year, “it was a challenge for a lot of parents,” said Roman Reyna, supervisor of “Wifi on wheels.”

And it is a situation that affects the entire United States, often due to lack of resources (an internet subscription costs an average of $ 60 per month) and sometimes also due to lack of infrastructure, especially in isolated areas.

In the southern state of Mississippi, which is more rural and much poorer than California, half of the students are offline, according to a study published this year by the NGO Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group.

According to its authors, it would take an investment of between 6,000 and 11,000 million dollars a year to eradicate this “digital divide” throughout the United States, that is, between 1% and 2% of the Defense budget.

The councilor of Santa Ana Vincent Sarmiento estimates that “around 10,000 students do not have access” to the internet, for which he congratulated Watson’s initiative to bring “Wi-Fi to neighborhoods where there are five to ten children per building, which so far have difficulties to connect “either due to lack of access or slowness.

Angel, 13, was one of them. “I had problems with the Wi-Fi, it didn’t work well. So sometimes I had to go to a friend’s house, where they let me work,” this high school student told AFP from his small apartment, where his 17-year-old sister you also benefit from the program.

“Now it works well … I have my homework up to date,” added the young man in the ninth grade, who is nonetheless eager to go back to school.

“In school I feel like it will be easier for me to learn … because it’s a bit difficult for teachers to take us to websites and stuff, while in class, they can get closer to us.

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