Monday, October 12, 2020

NYT on the potentially "crippling" shortage of school laptops

Though this article speaks to the potential impact at the grade school level due to a "stunning" worldwide demand for laptops (Japan alone is expected to order 7 million devices according to the NYT) and the resulting shortage, it has obvious implications for everyone's ability to get the educational technology they will need as the pandemic grinds on. In particular, though, the shortage is having a potentially "crippling" effect on rural areas, communities of color, and other vulnerable populations which will further exacerbate the existing "digital divide" for an entire generation of students.

You can help by donating old or disused laptops to schools in need (there are many such charitable organizations, operating both locally and on a worldwide scale, just Google it).

Read on courtesy of the New York Times:

The Digital Divide Starts With a Laptop Shortage

A surge in worldwide demand by educators for low-cost laptops has created shipment delays and pitted desperate schools against one another. Districts with deep pockets often win out.

When the Guilford County Schools in North Carolina spent more than $27 million to buy 66,000 computers and tablets for students over the summer, the district ran into a problem: There was a shortage of cheap laptops, and the devices wouldn’t arrive until late October or November.

 

More than 4,000 students in the district had to start the school year without the computers they needed for remote learning.

 

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Angie Henry, the district’s chief operations officer. “Kids are excited about school. They want to learn.”

 

Millions of children are encountering all sorts of inconveniences that come with digital instruction during the coronavirus pandemic. But many students are facing a more basic challenge: They don’t have computers and can’t attend classes held online.

 

A surge in worldwide demand by educators for low-cost laptops and Chromebooks — up to 41 percent higher than last year — has created monthslong shipment delays and pitted desperate schools against one another. Districts with deep pockets often win out, leaving poorer ones to give out printed assignments and wait until winter for new computers to arrive.

 

That has frustrated students around the country, especially in rural areas and communities of color, which also often lack high-speed internet access and are most likely to be on the losing end of the digital divide. In 2018, 10 million students didn’t have an adequate device at home, a study by education nonprofit Common Sense Media found. That gap, with much of the country still learning remotely, could now be crippling.

 

“The learning loss that’s taken place since March when they left, when schools closed, it’ll take years to catch up,” Ms. Henry said. “This could impact an entire generation of our students.”

 

Sellers are facing stunning demand from schools in countries from Germany to El Salvador, said Michael Boreham, an education technology analyst at the British company Futuresource Consulting. Japan alone is expected to order seven million devices.

 

Global computer shipments to schools were up 24 percent from 2019 in the second quarter, Mr. Boreham said, and were projected to hit that 41 percent jump in the third quarter, which just ended.

 

Chromebooks, web-based devices that run on software from Google and are made by an array of companies, are in particular demand because they cost less than regular laptops. That has put huge pressure on a supply chain that cobbles laptop parts from all over the world, usually assembling them in Asian factories, Mr. Boreham said.

 

While that supply chain has slowly geared up, the spike in demand is “so far over and above what has historically been the case,” said Stephen Baker, a consumer electronics analyst at the NPD Group. “The fact that we’ve been able to do that and there’s still more demand out there, it’s something you can’t plan for.”

 

Adding to the problem, many manufacturers are putting a priority on producing expensive electronics that net greater profits, like gaming hardware and higher-end computers for at-home employees, said Erez Pikar, the chief executive of Trox, a company that sells devices to school districts.

 

Before the year began, Trox predicted it would deliver 500,000 devices to school districts in the United States and Canada in 2020, Mr. Pikar said. Now, the total will be two million. But North American schools are still likely to end the year with a shortage of more than five million devices, he said. He added that he was not aware of any large-scale efforts to get refurbished or donated laptops to school districts.

. . . . 

Continue reading here.

(jbl). 

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2020/10/nyt-on-the-worldwide-shortage-of-school-laptops.html

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