Tough decisions: who’s paying for student computers?

In an ideal world, every student would have a computer in class. That’s not a particularly controversial statement. After all, these days, we’re unlikely to ask: should we give students their own devices? It’s much more likely that we’ll ask: how do we fund devices for students?

One on one

Many countries have 1:1 computing policies – where the state funds one computer for each child. Take Vancouver Public Schools in Washington State, for example. In 2013, voters approved a $24 million levy to cover a mandate that all students in grades 3 to 12 would have their own devices by 2019. In Thailand, the government spent $1.3 billion on handheld computers for 1.3 million school children. And you don’t have to look far to find similar stories across the world. Equally, you don’t have to look far to find evidence of tightening budgets in education. Not every school can stretch to providing devices and, for some, the dream of 1:1 computing is just that: a dream. So, what happens when the state can’t fund devices?

Is BYOD the answer?

The Australian federal government’s Digital Education Revolution provided laptops to students from year nine onwards. However, when that initiative finished in 2012, schools needed an alternative strategy. For many schools, that strategy was bring your own device (BYOD), which grew by 30% in Australia in 2014. And Australia isn’t alone in this respect. Schools in the United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Britain, and New Zealand are increasingly looking at BYOD. A 2016 survey by RM Education in the UK showed that 29% of schools had opted for some form of BYOD. It’s probably not a surprise with budgets shrinking and the number of pupils with personal devices growing.

The danger of a silver bullet

Is BYOD a silver bullet? It has the potential to reduce hardware costs. That’s true. But there are still the costs of infrastructure, software licensing and support to consider. What’s more, some experts see BYOD as perpetuating a digital divide. Dennis Fitzgerald of the New South Wales Teachers’ Federation said: “BYOD may become a rather sad and ironic term, in that children will bring what their family can afford – the device, the support, the software.”[i] So, if the dream of a device for every pupil is to become a reality, some level of state funding seems inevitable. Another criticism of BYOD is that parents lack the support to choose the right devices for their children. But, whether you’re a parent or a teacher, choosing the right device can be tough.

The bit that gets overlooked

Feedback from schools has pointed out that students could be opening and closing their devices five to eight times per lesson. With eight lessons a day, across 200 days, over a three-year period, a student could open and close a device between 24,000 and 38,400 times. You’re unlikely to see a business laptop opened and closed as frequently. And that’s before you think about the device being stuffed in a school bag, dropped, and accidentally doused in fizzy drinks. Durability often gets overlooked when it comes to choosing devices. But it’s a really important factor in the decision. After all, these devices are going to be carted back and forth from school for a considerable period.

A tough investment decision

Robustness is something that crops up with our education customers all the time. Whether they’re spending the state’s money or recommending devices to parents, they need something reliable if they’re going to get the best value from their investment. Now, I could talk about how, at Fujitsu, our combination of Japanese innovation and German quality results in low failure rates for devices. Or I could give a long list of specs that prove how durable our devices are. But, I think this quote from one of our customers sums it up much better. “Put simply, the Fujitsu LIFEBOOK can take a beating and keep working.” Chad Shepherd, CIO, St Louis College of Pharmacy.

 [i] Teachers fear a ‘digital divide’, as parents concerned about BYOD costs, Sydney Morning Herald

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