Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Thinking About Computer Reuse in Schools

As many schools lament their ability to provide adequate computing resources for their students, the EPA estimates that 60 million PC are obsoleted in this country each year. Of those, best guesses are that only 200,000 are refurbished and find their way to our K-12 schools. That's roughly two computers per school.

Schools may also (understandably) be concerned that any effort to provide a broader framework for the implementation of used computers in schools will result in schools being forced to use equipment that is outmoded or outdated--or, worse still, that the schools will have to become the mechanism for the disposal of computers "dumped" on them. And there definitely is the need for policy discussions relating to computer re-use and recycling.

But it would certainly appear that access to computers, and the ability to use them effectively, computers, will significantly impact the educational and financial future of the children in our school system. Schools spend a significant amount of money on computer technology, sometimes to the detriment of other important programs--and so it would be important for us to understand if there are good ways to reuse computers in schools that allow for broader access at lower costs.

In Canada, where admittedly they are more inclined to create government programs to accomplish social goals, one in four computers in schools has come from their government-run "Computers for Schools" refurbishment program. "Computers for Schools" has provided more than 650,000 computers to schools and public libraries since its inception, with literally all government surplus computers being processed through this program, and one in every four computers in their schools coming from this program. They now delivers in excess of 100,000 additional computers each year (with a general population almost a tenth of the United States, that is roughly 5 times as many computers being reused in schools, per capita, than in the US ). A fuller discussion of that program is outside the goals of this post (since the program is subsidized on several fronts by both public and private entities), but it does provide an opportunity to consider that the re-use of computers in schools can be accomplished on a broad scale in a way that is seen as beneficial to all involved. If we can find a way to help make used computers a reasonable and viable part in our schools, as many schools have done, then we have the opportunity to increase the exposure and usage of computers to students--for many of whom, having good computer skills will make a huge difference in their lives.