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Deviceless distance learning

Laptop shortages leave many students high and dry during the pandemic


A student does school work from home in Kailua, Hawaii Associated Press/Adrienne Robillard

Deviceless distance learning

U.S. suppliers have mostly caught up to the demand for masks and toilet paper since the start of the pandemic, but now tens of thousands of schoolchildren are suffering from the shortage of another item: laptop computers.

Cleveland public school officials had to cancel a $4.7 million order of 9,000 HP laptops when the company notified the district its order would come in more than a month after the Sept. 8 start of classes. District leaders said the tech giant did not uphold its end of the bargain and left them scrounging for alternatives.

Other districts experienced similar problems. When classes resumed virtually in late August, Denver public schools were still waiting on thousands of laptops from an order for 12,500 it placed in the spring. And students in numerous California districts are awaiting the arrival of more than 300,000 back-ordered computers. Major industry providers such as HP and Lenovo claim they are working as fast they can and blame U.S. sanctions on some Chinese tech suppliers for the delays.

Just 42 percent of all elementary schools provided a device for every student prior to the pandemic, according to a 2019 survey by the Consortium for School Networking. The proportion went up to about 60 percent for middle and high schoolers. The shift to online learning in the spring left millions of students disconnected and schools trying to bridge the gap.

The technology deficit has exacerbated other problems. An August report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education revealed many more urban, high-poverty districts planned to begin the school year remotely than their suburban or rural neighbors. That disparity means many vulnerable families must wait for their districts to come through with needed devices.

“Not everybody is financially stable enough to buy laptops, and some families are big like mine,” Samantha Moore, a mother of four in Greensboro, N.C., told The New York Times. “I can’t just go out and buy four computers.”


Laura Edghill

Laura is an education correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and serves as the communications director for her church. Laura resides with her husband and three sons in Clinton Township, Mich.

@LTEdghill

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