By Elisabeth Buchwald
During March and April, there were shortages of computer monitors and laptops resulting from the shift to working and learning from home.
Eventually, demand began to wane for computers and other office equipment that was highly sought after at the onset of the pandemic .
But now it’s deja vu for PCs.
The global market for PCs is experiencing its highest rate of growth in the last 10 years with nearly 80 million units sold in the third quarter of this year, according to a report published by research firm Canalys.
In the U.S., shipments rose 14.6% from the same quarter a year ago , the largest year-over-year increase since the second quarter of 2010, according to research firm IDC.
That’s partially a reflection of companies investing in “longer-term transitions to remote working,” the report states. Another major driver of PC growth is government spending.
The Trump administration’s sanctions on Chinese suppliers which, in some cases, manufactured the laptops that school districts ordered also contributed to the delay in PC deliveries, analysts say.
This is all the more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic when millions of students are working from home on a full- or part-time basis, especially when many low-income families are relying on school supplies.
The Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C., carried out an analysis of primary and secondary education that, it said, illustrated “a widespread digital divide based on family income.”
The data, from the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Assessment of Educational Progress for eighth-graders, show students who are poor are less likely to have access to the equipment they need to attend classes remotely.
“Nearly 16% of eighth-graders overall, and almost a quarter of eighth-graders who are poor, don’t have a desktop or laptop computer at home on which to follow their classes,” EPI researchers Emma García, Elaine Weiss, and Lora Engdahl wrote. “About 8% of eighth-graders who are not poor lack access to these essential devices.”
The data also showed that few students have teachers with full technological proficiency to teach online, the EPI said. (Poor students are defined as students who are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program.)
As many schools across the U.S. and internationally started off this school year remotely, to ensure that all students could participate in online learning some school districts have purchased laptops and tablets.
For instance, the Texas Education Agency ordered nearly 1 million laptops and 480,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. In the U.K., the government made 100,000 notebooks available to students, Canalys reported.
“This is going to be like asking an artist to paint a picture without paint. You can’t have a kid do distance learning without a computer,” Tom Baumgarten, superintendent of the Morongo Unified School District in California’s Mojave Desert, where all 8,000 students qualify for free lunch and most need computers for distance learning, told the Associated Press .
As expected, many districts couldn’t secure the technology in time for the first day of school. Mississippi school districts only recently began receiving some of the 320,000 computers the state’s Department of Education ordered in early August.
At that time, three of the biggest computer companies, Lenovo /zigman2/quotes/205368244/delayed HK:992 +1.42% , HP /zigman2/quotes/209685666/composite HP -6.54% and Dell /zigman2/quotes/203822527/composite DELL +1.38% , all told school districts back in August that they had a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops, the AP reported .
Many schools in the U.S. have not yet received the orders they placed.
That’s made it impossible for nearly 4,000 students who attend Guilford County schools in North Carolina. The district spent more than $27 million to buy 66,000 computers and tablets in the summer, and aren’t expecting to begin receiving the shipment until later this month the New York Times reported.
“Keeping students learning is our top priority and we are treating every school and school district with urgency,” an HP spokeswoman said in a statement to MarketWatch.
“The pandemic and shift to remote learning has increased the need for devices, and we are working hard to help schools get computers in the hands of students as quickly as possible.”
Dell also acknowledged that “with more schools making the decision to extend or adopt virtual education, it’s created unprecedented laptop demand, shortages and compressed timelines across the industry.”
“Dell is committed to solving this situation for our education customers so teachers and students can focus on learning,” a spokesperson said in a statement to MarketWatch, adding that their “lead times are improving daily.”
Lenovo did not respond to MarketWatch’s request for a comment regarding their current backlog status.
Most school districts opt for products from these three brands given their lower price point compared to Apple /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -1.37% products. Though the New York City Dept. of Education purchased more than 321,000 loaner iPads with built-in internet access for students in March.
“Teachers, parents, districts, and communities are doing their best, under extremely difficult circumstances, to expand access to devices and revamp operations so that children lose as little as possible in terms of not just valuable learning time, but also school-based supports like meals , health clinics, and counseling,” the EPI researchers García, Weiss and Engdahl said.
“The hardships they are facing are widespread, and educators and administrators are trying to mitigate the pain during this crisis,” they said.
“The lack of remote learning for many due to the digital divide is just a small tip of the iceberg of factors impeding a sound education for all of our students during this time,” the EPI researchers added. “Once school buildings reopen, we must make large and targeted investments in strategies to address the consequences of the current challenges and lift up all students going forward.”