Primary School IT – Replacing the old Vs. Acquiring the new

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This post is a follow up post to an article originally published on wired.co.uk on 13th Feb 2013. The article was titled “Primary school technology education is in a crisis” and was written by Laura Kirsop.

Laura’s article focuses on poor school IT budgets and using out of date equipment. As an experienced IT Manager that has worked with a number of education providers, I’d like to add my own thoughts into the subject.

Replacing the old vs. acquiring the new

The battle between replacing old kit vs. acquiring new, additional kit is an age-old issue. If you spend your entire budget on acquiring new technology then there are going to be little funds available for maintaining or replacing what you already have.

We have seen one school spend the entire remainder of its years IT budget on two class sets of iPads – All the while the staff were still using 6 and 7 year old laptops and old interactive whiteboards and ageing infrastructure, this doesn’t strike a good balance.

Don’t focus too much on acquisition

Focussing too much on acquisition rather than replacement also bring up another issue, all the new kit that is purchased will also one day go out of date. While desktops and laptops can be eeked out on a 5 year replacement schedule, kit like iPads will have a much shorter shelf life.

Typically Apple pulls the plug on an iOS device around 3 years after release; at this point the software moves beyond the capabilities of old hardware. Apple is very keen on maintaining the user experience and is happy to drop older hardware from its support schedule. For the most part, the kit can be used beyond this date but as apps update over time, they may lose compatibility with those apps and fall out of use.

Another school that we have worked with had a class set of iPods in use, because of the age of the devices Apple had stopped supporting them and many of the apps they wanted to use no longer were compatible. This lead to the devices just being used for the camera and a bit of Internet access – this is not a good use of the resource.

It’s a fine line that needs to be walked to balance acquisition against replacement. Replacing a few computers in an ICT suite every year will ultimately mean that some will taken many years to be replaced – this in itself can increase support costs in the long run.

However investing in replacing a whole suite in one go will be expensive and in 4 to 5 years time the whole lot will need replacing all at the same time.

Trying to keep old kit running also can lead to the following problems:

Speed and Reliability

Over time, as software is installed, removed and upgraded to newer, more resource hungry versions system speed will reduce. If you are trying to run modern software on old kit then you and your students will not get the best experience in ICT lessons. How many times have lessons been stalled by the students taking an age to log in to the computers? More than I can count.

Confidence

Trying to utilise old computers also can have a drastic effect on the teacher’s confidence when delivering a lesson. How can you deliver a good or outstanding lesson when you cannot guarantee that the equipment will work as planned? I have seen many ICT lessons abandoned because of this.

The shiny shiny vs. the black boxes in the cupboard.

Schools love new ICT equipment, that’s a fact. They love getting their hands on iPads, tablets, new laptops and the like and rightly so – its great to see the enthusiasm on kids faces when they get to try something new, its infectious for everyone involved. This is what I call the “Shiny Shiny effect”.

There is an increased trend for schools to invest heavily in Shiny kit at the expense of the boring black boxes that sit in a dusty cupboard out of sight – or the infrastructure as its known in the trade.

I have seen schools that have invested their entire budget in front end technology such as iPads while running ancient networks and servers.

This has two effects:

The fist effect is that often the infrastructure and cannot cope with the amount of new traffic on the network – this is especially true with WiFi – if you have30 iPads all connecting to a single access point in a classroom then the capacity of that access point will be split 30 ways, if the access point is old and flaky to begin with then it simply wont cope – you’ll get slow downs and a very poor user experience.

The second effect is that if the entire budget goes on the shiny stuff, then the servers and infrastructure will get that much older before there is budget again to replace them.

From a technicians point of view, there is nothing more worrying than being called out to a site with a 10 year old server with multiple fan failures and caked in dust that needs a restart. All you can do is close your eyes, cross your fingers and pray that it reboots correctly.. it’s the stuff of IT nightmares.

What Schools Need to do..

Schools need to plan their IT spend years in advance to avoid the pitfalls mentioned earlier. My recommendations would be to:

  1. Perform a full audit of IT equipment including purchase dates
  2. Decide on a “Use By Date” for equipment – i.e. when it needs to be replaced (and stick to it).
  3. Work out how much it will cost to replace the outgoing kit and work out funding options.

Schools also need to be aware of what is actually spent as part of an IT budget – its very difficult to assign a number to a budget when you don’t know what its being used for – some examples of what is spent as part of an IT budget are below:

  1. New kit acquisitions
  2. Replacements for old kit
  3. Software/Apps
  4. Infrastructure (servers, networking, wifi)
  5. Licensing costs (Microsoft Server and Windows licenses, Office licenses etc)
  6. Webfilter and Firewalls
  7. Internet access
  8. Other software subscriptions

And this is all before traditional ICT resources are purchased such as Beebots, Probots, Lego Mindstorms and the like.

Final words of advice.

My final words of advice would be to plan, plan, plan. You need to plan your IT spending over a 3 year period and stick to it.

By concentrating on replacing your current kit before buying any extras means that you will have at least a consistent IT experience – which is great for reliability and teacher confidence.

After all, it’s the teachers that will be driving ICT in your school so if they are confident that everything will work as planned then the students will get a much better learning experience.

If you would like to discuss and of the issues we have mentioned here, or if you have any other ICT requirements then please contact Kyle or Gary via sales@primaryictandmedia.co.uk, call us on 0161 850 1117 or message us via Facebook or Twitter and we’ll be happy to help.

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