US schools struggle with tech boom caused by COVID-19 lockdown

A study by Futuresource Consulting shows that American schools are struggling to manage the influx of tech devices

US schools are tackling a brand-new technology challenge, as a recent study from Futuresource Consulting reveals that many districts are inadvertently creating a vast network of devices and operating systems which are becoming increasingly difficult to manage.

As the uptake of education technology shifts from the adopter phase to device renewal and refresh, the ‘stay-at-home’ measures enforced in response to the coronavirus outbreak have prompted an unparalleled surge in the rollout of new technologies and solutions.

“With most schools running a mixed estate of device types and operating systems, we’re hearing concerns from schools about the ability to coordinate replacement programmes,” said Chris Pennell, principal analyst at Futuresource Consulting.

“The new objective for IT decision makers is to streamline device for OS inventories, as schools plan their future device strategies. It is also not uncommon for smaller schools to be running older versions of Windows. This is compounding the problem, and they will find it increasingly difficult to run newer versions of applications, as well as becoming more vulnerable to certain security risks.”

Drawing on interviews with IT decision makers from more than 400 K-12 school districts across the US, Futuresource analysts sought to unravel what schools are demanding of end user devices and outline how they are used.

Researchers were unsurprised to find that schools are steadily moving away from desktop PCs in favour of mobile devices. On top of this, Microsoft remains the most widely used operating system, accounting for more than 85% of desktop and 60% of mobile devices.

Chromebooks are also popular, especially with students, though they are yet to have the same impact for students who are learning from home. In line with the rise of Chromebooks, Chrome accounts for 25% of mobile operating systems in US schools, with the study finding that the OS is more common in schools with up to 5,000 students.

In related news: Remote learning could end next month as government deems schools safe to reopen

“For desktops, price remains the number one influencer on purchasing decisions,” added Pennell, “but when it comes from mobile devices, longevity and durability are influencing the decision-making process, even above the form factor.”

With almost 10% of US schools relying on devices still running on Windows 7 – and Windows 7 reaching End of Life in January this year – Microsoft is no longer providing these schools with patches and security updates, leaving them open to cyber threats. While nearly two in three of these schools claim they intend to upgrade to the latest Windows OS rather than adopt a different operating system, 20% say they are postponing the decision until an unspecified date in the future.

“Over the next two years, upgrading facilities and esport devices are the top investment priorities for schools, and that’s the case even for schools which are relatively slow at adopting technology,” said Pennell.

“Watch out for esports as it begins to gain some serious traction over the next few years, driving a wave of demand for high-end PCs. Headless interfaces will begin to emerge too, doing away with the display in favour of interacting with a virtual assistant through speech alone. However, we expect to see adoption occur in back office areas before the classroom, as privacy and security issues still need to be addressed.”

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