The global shortage of semiconductor chips and what this means for schools

The computer chip crisis has been another challenge for the education sector this year

Across industries, across countries, the global shortage of semiconductor chips is causing a stir; creating disruption and inconvenience to businesses and consumers alike.  Put simply, the manufacturing of chips can’t keep up with the increased levels of demand, affecting the supply of an enormous range of products that have silicon chips, from televisions and household appliances such as toasters, tumble dryers, washing machines and refrigerators, to computers and cars.

As the factories manufacturing chips were forced to close during the pandemic, the curtailment of production led to a dip in supply, resulting in the stockpiling of available supplies, and creating a subsequent rise in prices, which has spiralled into a major problem across the world. As well as the challenges of the pandemic, trade wars and political tensions have also caused disruptions in the supply of chips.

As well as the challenges of the pandemic, trade wars and political tensions have also caused disruptions in the supply of chips

Beating lockdown boredom

Electronic gadgets like game consoles experienced an unprecedented boom in demand as people attempted to keep themselves entertained in lockdown. According to a report by the industry body, UK Interactive Entertainment, an increase in revenues was reported by almost half of UK gaming companies. At the same time, a steep escalation in the number of laptops, PCs and tablets were needed to support both employees working from home and the remote education of all students. In fact, research company IDC announced that 2020 saw the biggest demand for PCs in a decade, with an increase of over 13%.

These scenarios have collectively brought about a global shortage of chips, and a knock-on effect across all sectors which is not expected to come to an end anytime soon. Experts are predicting the problems could last for at least 12 months, most likely beyond, and industries are therefore taking steps to mitigate the impact and rethinking existing purchasing plans.

Issues with sourcing and purchasing

The education sector is one of many that has been hit, and schools now face significant challenges with sourcing and purchasing new ICT equipment. Limited availability of laptops, Chromebooks, tablets, desktops and network routers has in turn given rise to price increases, and for those schools that have been able to withstand an inflated price tag, substantial delays to delivery are imminent.

Yet many schools have either completely struggled to place orders for new devices or simply cannot afford the price hikes.  As a result, concerns have been flagged over the availability of technology for the start of the new academic year, and unfortunately if schools have not placed orders already, the likelihood of receiving delivery by September is slim.

Remote and hybrid learning pressures

The fast-changing educational environment and move to blended learning is also placing extra emphasis on the need for technology and additional demand for hardware. There is also a greater need for home learning time and possible hybrid models, especially if local lockdowns persist, and of course the need for one device per student to accommodate this.

Whilst demand for devices from schools continues and there’s no sign of supplies improving, there’s a strong desire to move on from the cycle of procuring brand new products, and instead explore alternative options to both overcome the current challenges and reflect changing times.

Many sectors are presently favouring refurbished and recycled electronics, which were once somewhat overlooked, as a viable option to prevail over the computer chip shortage

Many sectors are presently favouring refurbished and recycled electronics, which were once somewhat overlooked, as a viable option to prevail over the computer chip shortage. For the education sector too, it overcomes the barriers that schools currently face; the main ones being around price and lead times.

Affordability

Ever-restricted school ICT budgets mean maximising value for money from all investments is front of mind, and the refurbished and recycled route, whether buying direct or leasing, is highly cost-effective. Schools save thousands of pounds taking this approach, and budgets go further as it effectively widens the choice. For instance, higher spec equipment can be procured for less money than buying shiny new technology. Equally, schools can replace a greater amount of equipment by opting for refurbished rather than brand new; and by adopting this strategy, reach even more students, especially those who are disadvantaged.

The lack of computer chips has had large-scale consequences for suppliers that are unable to meet the demand for new devices ordered by schools. Lead times for delivery, that would under ‘normal’ circumstances, be a few weeks, now run into many months. The circular economy however, which is where products and materials are kept in circulation rather than seen as disposable and being sent onto landfill, sees refurbished tech being reused, which for schools is a fast-track channel to the immediate availability of goods.

Refurbished doesn’t mean outdated

Importantly what some schools may be unaware of is that refurbished technology no longer means slow or outdated tech. It has moved on enormously, especially in recent years, and today high-quality, reliable business-grade equipment is often sourced from commercial or government organisations and re-purposed specifically for schools. Again, providing quality over and above the new entry level equipment, which is unfortunately often not fit for purpose.

The education sector relies heavily on technology, and beyond the benefit of getting the equipment wanted, when it’s wanted, using refurbished products helps schools work towards creating a cleaner environment for future generations.  Being more eco-friendly and our impact on the environment has gained much attention during the pandemic as the effects of what we do, or are not doing, becomes further evident. There are of course many ways that schools can help the environment, and in this case, reducing e-waste is a step that schools, and students, are becoming more mindful of as a route to greater sustainability.

The computer chip crisis is another challenge for the education sector this year, driving schools to rethink their approach to ICT and change the way they think about technology.


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