Monday, May 3, 2010

Recycling Computers for the Benefit of Klal

With all the talk about cutting costs for yeshiva education there have also been plenty of comments about "unnecessary elements" that should/could be cut from a school's curriculum. A number of people have commented that this demanding of "extras" is what drives costs up. Some place this demand firmly in the MO camp--MO parents are looking for a "Rolls Royce" education for their children.

So, are they? What is it that an education is supposed to give to students? First, let's keep in mind that what might once have been the answer to this question has evolved over the years. What is necessary for students to know today may not be what was necessary in the past.

We live in a highly technological age. Computers have become a key part of our lives, not peripheral to them. There is virtually no job today that does not in some way rely on computers. The way that our everyday lives are lived has changed because of computers: we talk to each other via computers, we get information via computers, we shop via computers, we pay bills via computers, our household and commercial machinery is run by computers etc.. Having computers available in our schools is not a matter of luxury, but of necessary exposure to ensure that our children will come out of school "fully" educated and capable of taking their place in the working world. Yes, every one of our yeshiva classrooms should contain at least one computer at a minimum. Yes, teachers should be updating and learning about how to utilize the classroom computer for the maximum benefit to the students in the class. Yes, two computers or three or more would be better, but one has to be there. And yes, computers cost money. But this is one area where yeshivas could be a lot better at if they thought creatively.

How many of you have owned more than one computer? How about more than two? I'll venture a guess that you may have replaced a computer because there was a "faster" model out there, or a model with more bells and whistles. How about if you own a business? How often do you replace the computers? Now here's the key question: what do you do with the computers when you replace them with a different one? This is where schools could save money. If parents were to donate used but working computers to the schools, that would be computers that don't have to be purchased by the schools. If yeshivas would do the legwork and contact businesses and ask for donations of computers the businesses are replacing, that, too, would be computers the schools wouldn't have to pay for. And yes, businesses will do this. How about schools putting up notices in the stores where the frum community shops asking for computer equipment to be donated. Again, people will donate if they know that someplace can use their computers.

At the last electronic equipment junking day that the Sanitation Department held here on SI, they got an amazing 127 computers that were brought in. Assume that maybe 1/2 were not in working condition, even assume that 2/3 may not have been. That still would leave 42 computers being junked that could have been useful to a lot of places, schools included. When our shul needed another computer a while back we donated one that was no longer being used by us but that was still usable. Senior centers are always short on funds but could use the computer equipment. When my mom was in the rehab center last year I noticed that there were no computers for the use of the residents. Now granted, a lot of these residents are elderly and may not be particularly computer savvy. But there were plenty of residents who did know their way around a computer and didn't have laptops and so couldn't access their emails or do anything else that is computer dependent. When I happened to ask why there were no computers available the answer I got was basically "donate some computers to us and there will be computers." I mentioned this to my cousin when she came to see my mom and she mentioned it to her husband, whose firm is huge, computer dependent and always upgrading. The company said that at the next upgrade time three computers would go to the rehab facility. Yes, it's as simple as that--ask and you may get.

When the company my husband was working for at the time was replacing computers I was teaching in a yeshiva high school. I brokered the deal between the company and the school. The company donated 19 computers for a tax donation letter, and the school got 19 computers free of charge. You don't need a bells and whistles computer to teach basic keyboarding and basic computer functions or to access the Internet. The educational programs that NYSTL provides in NY will run just fine on an older computer.

There are so many places that would welcome a used but working computer--senior citizen programs, after school programs, school classrooms, day care centers, shuls, community centers etc. Instead of just junking that computer you no longer want, find it a home where it will be warmly and gladly adopted. Save the environment and do a mitzvah at the same time--what could be better?


Lion of Zion said...

"a lot of these residents are elderly and may not be particularly computer savvy"

i used to work with a manuscript cataloguer in a library. he was about 160 years old, but had learned to use a computer nonetheless (of course pecking away with one finger).

Barry said...

And if you can't find anyone in the frum veldt who will take the computer there are hundreds of secular programs that could use them also. I called the mayors office where we live and they put me in touch with some of the programs.

Even if you think a computer is broken don't trash it. There are all kinds of vocational training programs and computer repair is taught. Those programs can use machines for their students to work on and practice on.

Anonymous said...

Good ideas, but I would add that the best way to help the environment is to keep your computer for as long as possible, even if it means repairs or upgrades or added memory. There is lots of hazardous waste in computers and other electronics. If you are thinking of donating to a senior center and the CPU and keyboard are good, consider spending some $ to throw in a new, large monitor.

Frayda said...

Good idea!

Anonymous said...

As someone who relies on computers extensively in his profession, I remain fairly confident that computers in the classroom do nothing to enhance education. Providing computers in libraries and perhaps offering some sort of specific computer education is much more worthwhile.

Kaylie said...

It's pretty clear Anonymous 2:26 that you aren't a teacher so just how is it that you are so confident that computers in the classroom do nothing? Are you even aware of all the ways they are used as part of the classroom education process? And what makes you think that specific computer education isn't part of what those computers are used for? No school, and cedrtainly no yeshiva, can afford to put a complete reference library into every classroom. And no teacher is going to pick up her class and head to the school library, assuming they have one, to check facts 40 times a day. A computer is the classroom library and much more as well. Students who need either extra help or enrichment while a partifcular subject is being taught can spend some time at the classroom computer under the teacher's supervision, where she/he is available to answer questions. And that's just the tip of what they can be used for.

Sima said...

I teach in a small yeshiva in CT and I am accepting any donations of computers for my classroom! We already have three; my class has nine girls in it. They use a typing program, use it for word processing, and recreation.

tesyaa said...

Even though the donated computers are "free", who will pay for the ongoing maintenance and tech support? Who among us has not had tech problems that have required a professional (or untold hours on the help line) to fix? (Please, Mac users excluded!)

Anonymous said...

tessya: If the computers aren't networked, there isn't too much that usually goes wrong if you have adequate virus/malware/adware protection. Once in 12 years of having a home computer I got a virus or worm or whatever it was since I was too cheap for the right virus protection software. For $90.00 a mcafee tech in India was able to access the computer and clean it like new. The expenses that someone will need to pick up for these donated computers are for virus, etc. protection and for the internet connection. Granted, more could go wrong with lots of students using a computer, but that's part of the instructions -- only download/open approved software.
Things get much more complex if you are talking about a networked system and servers.

dvorak613 said...

Anon 2:06: It's 2010. Computers are a way of life. While everyone has a computer at home and probably knows how to use it, we should be using them in schools (and not just for powerpoint presentations). Kids should be learning how to research (beyond wikipedia), some basic trouble shooting, and how to write basic programs (nothing that requires a computer science degree). If we are to stay globally competitive, education needs to keep up with the times.

Sima said...

My "IT guy" is a 13 year old student who is very clever with computers, and is happy to visit my classroom anytime we're experiencing technical difficulties. He doesn't charge anything.

JS said...

The big problem with computers in the classroom (or school) is that the educators and administrators generally know that computers are "important" (for some reason), but beyond that are clueless as to what to do with them and are about 10 or so years behind the technology curve.

This cuts in several ways. One, most schools tend to focus on tasks they find difficult or important but which students inherently know. For example, typing skills or browsing the Internet. On the flip side, schools tend to think that the latest and greatest computer are needed for even the most rudimentary tasks like word processing. So, in the end, most schools tend to have over-priced computers being used to teach skills generally already known.

It is really a generational problem in addition to not understanding what computers SHOULD be used for educationally.

I recall my own computer education in yeshiva relegated to Mavis Beacon typing, learning Microsoft Word, Oregon Trails, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. This is really unfortunate and a disservice to students.

Computer games, not matter how "educational," should not be a substitute for book learning. In the 30 minutes it takes to play through some geography or history game, a student could learn far more from a book. More often than not, educational games are used because it makes a teacher look good and is low-impact for a teacher.

Computers should be used to introduce computer programming or genuine research skills. I hesitate to add the last one since "research skills" and computers tend to equal google or wikipedia. I mean it in the sense of learning how to search in actual journals and other scholarly works.

The tendency to think "Oh, it's on a computer so it must be educational" is just outdated and wrong. Watching some multimedia website on how a prism splits light is no more educational than reading a science book on the same topic. Moving pictures and an LCD monitor doesn't change that fact.