Schools are starting up again, with many districts instituting some sort of hybrid system where students are only in the classroom a few days a week and spend the other days learning remotely from home.
The problem is that not every student has access to a computer, a necessity for remote learning. Lenovo, HP, and Dell, the three largest computer companies, are facing a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops needed to make sure students in the United States can get an education, The Associated Press reported, placing some of the blame on President Donald Trump’s China sanctions.
The sanctions, however, were placed on Chinese companies “implicated in forced labor or other human rights abuses against a Muslim minority population” known as Uyghurs, the AP reported. One of those companies was a manufacturer that built several models of Lenovo laptops. Lenovo told the AP the U.S. sanctions will add weeks to “existing delays” the company already faces in trying to get laptops to U.S. students.
Matt Bartenhagen, IT director for Williston Public Schools in North Dakota, told the AP that “It’s a tough one because I’m not condoning child slave labor for computers, but can we not hurt more children in the process?”
Bartenhagen’s district includes 4,600 students and is waiting for 2,000 Lenovo Chromebooks.
“They were supposed to be delivered in July. Then August. Then late August. The current shipping estimate is ’hopefully’” by December, he told the outlet.
The AP investigation included “interviews with over two dozen U.S. schools, districts in 15 states, suppliers, computer companies and industry analysts.”
Tom Baumgarten, superintendent of the Morongo Unified School District in California, told the AP he was concerned that the 8,000 students in his district wouldn’t get the computers they need.
“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,” Baumgarten said.
All of the students in his district qualify for free lunch and most are in need of a computer to participate in remote learning, the AP reported.
More from the AP:
Baumgarten was set to order 5,000 Lenovo Chromebooks in July when his vendor called him off, saying Lenovos were getting “stopped by a government agency because of a component from China that’s not allowed here,” he said. He switched to HPs and was told they would arrive in time for the first day of school Aug. 26. The delivery date then changed to September, then October. The district has about 4,000 old laptops that can serve roughly half of students, but what about the rest, Baumgarten asks rhetorically. “I’m very concerned that I’m not going to be able to get everyone a computer.”
Chromebooks and other low-cost PCs are the computers of choice for most budget-strapped schools. The delays started in the spring and intensified because of high demand and disruptions of supply chains, the same reasons that toilet paper and other pandemic necessities flew off shelves a few months ago.