It was famously said in 2008 that technology in schools has been funded by Tesco tokens and cake sales. When schools invest in technology, they are often using money that has been fundraised rather than from the Irish government. The only source of funding from the government for ICT comes in the form of one-off grants when a school gets a new classroom and this funding must be used in a certain way, with several restrictions. Up until a couple of years ago, schools could only buy laptops from a framework that included only 6 companies who had tendered to win this right. Over the following months, restrictions were slowly lifted, including the right to purchase locally under certain circumstances. Another option that was eventually allowed was the right to buy refurbished laptops.
Businesses often change their laptops every few years and when a company has finished their cycle, it seems to make financial sense to donate them to be wiped, cleaned and repackaged to be sent to schools and charities. While I’m not sure why it makes financial sense to do this, I presume these companies would simply toss them in skips if it didn’t! A refurbished laptop is generally less powerful than more modern equivalents. For example, a typical refurbished laptop runs Windows 7 and has 2-4GB RAM. Battery life is usually about 2 hours. Comparing this to a modern laptop running Windows 10, 4-8GB RAM and 3-4 hours of battery life, one might think that it’s a no-brainer to go for the latter.
However, for me, it all comes down to the following:
- Firstly cost: How many children can I get access to a computer per Euro spent?
- Secondly quality: How good does a laptop have to be today to be usable?
Refurbished laptops cost about a third of the price of new laptops. Therefore I can have three times the number of children accessing the devices. That’s simple. It’s the second criterion that cements my decision. When I asked myself, what do children actually do on school laptops, I realised very quickly that they don’t actually need the latest computers. In fact, many titles that are used in schools don’t work on modern computers. A refurbished computer is good enough for almost all the work that children do on computers in schools.
The potential pitfalls of refurbished laptops can be pointed out. For example, what if you need to do something complex requiring faster computers? My answer to this is not to completely rely on refurbs. For more complex things such as multimedia, have a couple of Apple Macs handy. Another complaint is the fact that newer laptops come with better guarantees if anything goes wrong. PCs slow down after a year anyway no matter what guarantees are around. I don’t see this as a problem. Because school laptops change hands every year, we can simply wipe everything and start again and our refurbs are pretty much as good as new. If something goes terribly wrong, because the cost of refurbished laptops is generally cheaper than the cost of the after sales guarantee, we can replace the laptop.
Granted refurbished laptops don’t look as nice as newer ones but they are more than functional and they certainly fulfill the needs of primary schools.
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