Three Lessons from COVID-19 for School IT Directors

Easing the burden for this crisis—and those in the future.

GUEST COLUMN | by Paula Currie

By now everyone has heard about the Coronavirus (or COVID-19), a fast-spreading virus that has quickly fanned out from Asia to Europe and now to North America. Just last week the World Health Organization labeled COVID-19 a pandemic, and government officials quickly organized to contain the spread of the virus.

Today, a majority of states have ordered the closure of schools. An estimated 75,000 public schools have closed out of the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools. This means that approximately 40 million public school students are learning from home as IT directors, administrators and teachers try to figure out how to make all this work. Millions more students from private schools also are affected.

While pandemics like COVID-19 are impossible to predict, there are some lessons that IT directors can take from this to ease the burden during this crisis and those in the future:

1. Hiccups in international supply chains can impact schools down to the classroom. We learned this during the Japanese Tsunami in 2011 when the Apple supply chain was disrupted. At that time, parts needed to make the iPad 2 were manufactured in Japan and many of those manufacturers were unable to produce components until the country recovered. What we are seeing with COVID-19 could be far worse and will likely have an impact on the ability of schools to refresh their Apple devices on a tight timeline. While some manufacturing operations are coming back on-line in China, other countries are shutting down factories and even borders. According to CNBC, the disruption already is starting to impact the shipment of goods for back-to-school season.

Because there is so much uncertainty, in order to ensure the availability of devices for the new school year, schools considering a refresh of devices this summer should escalate those plans and start the refresh process now. A good sellback company will be able to develop a flexible solution to help schools commit to new devices today without giving up custody of the current fleet until the new devices arrive.

2. 1:1 technology deployments are a necessity. Schools that have been putting off implementing a one device per student technology environment are feeling the pain of that now, as homebound students and teachers struggle to keep up with lessons, potentially through the remainder of the school year.

The New York City school system, the largest in the country with 1.1 million students, is scrambling to set up remote learning on what the mayor called “a wartime footing.” Since many families do not own a computer, the school district is purchasing devices, and coordinating broadband access. Teachers must undergo training on Google Classroom before instruction can begin.

Given the interconnectedness of our world, schools must plan for crises that may not originate in their district, state or country. In order to go on with business as usual, school districts should commit to 1:1 technology for all students in kindergarten and up.

3. Good device hygiene should be part of the curriculum. Like many viruses, including the flu, COVID-19 is spread by tiny droplets released when someone sneezes or coughs. These particles can land on any surface and can be transmitted from surface to surface by hands. A study in the Journal of Hospital Infection has shown that some coronaviruses can survive on surfaces as long as nine days. Someone can become infected with a virus by touching hands to face, among other ways. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control recommends washing hands thoroughly and disinfecting surfaces to keep the public healthy.

COVID-19 provides instructors an excellent opportunity to begin instilling good device hygiene practices with students, by requiring the daily wiping down of devices. This can be done with antimicrobial cleaning cloths made for electronics, such as Whoosh!, or by lightly spraying a diluted bleach solution on a microfiber cloth. Another option is a UV sanitizer, like PhoneSoap, which uses UV-C light to sanitize devices. Once a month devices should be taken out of their cases and thoroughly cleaned with a damp cloth.

As with all crises, there usually is a silver lining. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a number of good lessons for schools that undoubtedly will change business as usual in the classroom. These changes will benefit students and teachers by keeping everyone healthier and better prepared for the next crisis.

Paula Currie is vice president of procurement for Second Life Mac, an Apple buyback company. She is a 10-year veteran of Apple Inc., where she was a trusted expert on digital learning and 1:1 technology.

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