Upon completing my nourishment undertaking, I was just about to leave when four young teenage boys entered. One went to order 4 frozen drinks while the other three instantly pulled out their smartphones and went "online". Having come from a summit so focused on student digital options and engagement, I was fascinated at such behaviour. Obviously the frozen drinks held great appeal for these youngsters but still paled in huge significance to the free online connectivity.
Now this fast-food chain is hardly alone in not only giving free public access to Wi-Fi and advertising solidly about such their digitalness. Most retail malls and indeed many large-scale retail stores independently also provide such an offering. The question about such retail offerings has to be "why?" and "what are the implications for schools?"
Why? This is the easiest of the two questions; to stay relevant to target markets and obviously to maximise revenue. We all know the saying "Nothing in life is truly free" and so it is in this case. Retail that offers Wi-Fi are building subtle but highly powerful connections with their target audience. These retails appear hip, with the times and one with their customers. These retails are ensuring they met the social life expectations of their biggest spenders.
What are the implications for schools? In short and rather bluntly, if schools don't follow such retails, they appear archaic, out-of-touch with their target markets (students) and increasingly at contrast with students' life outside of school. As a result, if students feel detached from the institution they are a student of, but may not be an active or willing participant in, they will also be detached from the learning and the spirit of said institution.
In reality, students see a Wi-Fi offering by either a restaurant, store or even now a school as nothing but a basic expectation and provision. When Aorere College upgraded our Wi-Fi network to "beyond the school gate" saturation and made it lightning fast, the response from the students was "good on you...about time." I now believe that schools who do not offer unlimited but filtered Wi-Fi to their citizens will genuinely struggle to meet the educational and social demands of their community for the now and beyond.
Sad to say, but maybe just maybe, our august education institutions if not already doing so, need to play "follow the leader" to yes, it's so hard admit a burger joint or mall. The cost of doing otherwise is just too great.