Throwing away usable computers is violence against humanity

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 | Sustainability

Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson told this story about his grandfather:

One day when he was coming back from school, the boy threw away a pencil stub that had almost been used up and asked his grandfather for a new one.  Instead of giving him one, Gandhi asked him searching questions.  He wanted to know how the pencil became small, where he threw it away and finally – to his utter disbelief – gave him a flashlight and asked him to go out and look for it in the dark.  After two hours the pencil stub was found and the Mahatma was satisfied.  His point to his grandson – the moral of the story – was that throwing away natural resources is tantamount to violence against nature and over-consuming resources when there are so many deprived people in the world constitutes violence against humanity.

This story made me think about the way some technical support folks insist on replacing computers in schools when they are a few years old, but still having some useful life in them.  It may take some effort to maintain them, but while they are still usable we should do so.  Throwing them away – in the words of Gandhi – is tantamount to violence against nature.  Why should we consider replacing computers in a school laboratory with new ones, while there are many children who still do not have access?

And think about e-waste.  When you throw a computer away you pollute the environment.  I wonder what Gandhi would have said about that!

Technicians: don’t insist on replacing computers just because it is no longer comfortable for you to maintain them.  Remember the pencil stub, ponder the violence against humanity and think about the deprived children.  Rather empower school staff to assist with the maintenance of their equipment than simply recommending replacement of it.

Strive to stretch the life of scarce technology resources to their limit.

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20 Comments to Throwing away usable computers is violence against humanity

Mark C
Wednesday, 11 November, 2009

If you visit some schools the labs have become albatrosses with slower-than slow logons. All the updates from Windows to Symantec antivirus. Capacitors have popped on the motherboards, power supplies have blown and RAM chips just had their chips. Maybe everything can be fixed, but how much will it cost? Is it worthwhile? If old computers can be fixed or are over three years of age they can still be used, but it depends on the school’s vision. I would take the old machines and load Linux on them and use them as stand-alones. There would not be as many problems with viruses as opposed to a Windows standalone. These can be used for typing assignments. For lower spec machines there are Linux alternatives. Ofcourse you need internet for updates but this operating system functions well just as it is.
If you are a Windows junkie all stand-alones must somehow be connected to internet for antivirus and Windows updates. At a school of mine they replaced the PCs in the maths lab with new ones, took the old ones and put them in a media centre and the staff room. These are still connected to the network and they are used. Yet many still prefer the newer PCs.
Any schools wanting to get rid of their older, working PCs? I will buy a few of them and redo them for a vision I have.

ALBIE
Thursday, 12 November, 2009

Mark is correct re UPDATES / UPGRADES, stand-alones pc’ and maybe another OS for old ws.I would also support Mark on the STAND ALONE concept – less problematic and further almost ALWAYS in operation even if the SERVER (the so-called weakest link in the LAB) IS OUT AND DOWN !!

I would just add this point: the rapid development re improved software packages is understandable, but that by itself have a negative impact on the hardware. Maybe the VENDORS + programmers should ensure that the basic os + basic software should be functional for at least 5 years on a ws.

Albie The Cream Box and Black Screen

Mark C
Thursday, 12 November, 2009

Hey Albie! We can even connect these old boxes with Linux (Edubuntu) on them to the IAWB. Download the latest Smartsoftware from the site (but you need the board’s serial number) or download version 9 for free.

I want to install v9 on my laptop and see how it works at a school. Are you game?

Stefan Coetzer
Thursday, 12 November, 2009

Kobus, you make several very valid points. I would like to say however, tongue firmly in cheek, that the dumping of “e-waste” in a computer lab might be an act of kindness to the natural environment, but not to the education environment. To make matters worse: constant trips to faraway schools to maintain obsolete or outdated equipment in itself leaves a large carbon footprint. Would a recycling project to dispose of old IT equipment in a responsible manner not be a better idea?

Mark C
Thursday, 12 November, 2009

Stefan makes a valid point about recycling too. This made me think of an ad campaign run by Nokia for old mobile phones. I speak under correction but they claim that more than 90% of a mobile phone (their brand) can be recycled. They have made recycling containers available for older mobile phones (any brand). Obviously this has a business twist to it. maybe the same can be done for computers who have outlived their life-time. However, we have to use the computer until it cannot serve its purpose anymore, otherwise we just become a throw-away society.

Pieter
Thursday, 12 November, 2009

Bruikbare rekenaars beteken bruikbaar vir die doel waarvoor dit aangekoop is. Indien rekenaars nie meer voldoen om effektief te wees nie kan dit negatief inwerk vir die skool of organisasie. Die koste en moeite om ou rekenaars in stand te hou is net nie die geld en moeite werd nie, dit is nou te sê as die hardeware nog opgradeerbaar is. Om die ou rekenaars te skenk aan ander skole of instansies kan jy dalk meer vyande maak as vriende. Ons skool probeer so veel moontlik haal uit die leeftyd van ons rekenaars deur goeie voorkomende maatreëls en ‘n skoon omgewing. Maar as die tyd kom wanneer dit nie meer koste effektief is om reg te maak nie, is dit nodig vir vervanging. Ek stem saam dat daar na herwinningsopsies gekyk word. Ek is meer bekommerd oor die nuwe, goeie rekenaars in nuwe rekenaarlokale wat wit olifante is… die rekenaars word nooit opgebruik nie en is nog splinternuut na 5 jaar en sekerlik bruikbaar vir die wat nie bekommerd is oor die nuutste tegnologie nie.

kvanwyk
Friday, 13 November, 2009

Stefan, you are spot on with your comments. A school’s computer room should not be a graveyard for obsolete equipment. One reaches a point when it becomes a crime against the teachers and learners of a school (and the technicians who must maintain them!) to continue trying to squeeze more life out of a piece of equipment. And of course, your point of driving long distances to fix a nearly dead computer is counter-prodtive. But there must be a balance. I’ve observed that, at times, technical folks are too quick to replace equipment, simply because it is easier (nicer) to work on new equipment. I believe that the decision to replace equipment must be based on sound reasoning, and not on a technical whim. Thanks for bringing your perspective to this topic.

Albert Arendse
Friday, 13 November, 2009

Believe you me, if even today, I have to travel a difficult but necessary journey across difficult terrain, I would prefer to use a donkey cart of yesteryear than trek on foot…but a four-by-four would be great.

Christelle
Friday, 13 November, 2009

Quite an interesting conversation! Older equipment is sometimes only a frustration due to the slow processors, but can still be a useful tool. ELSEN classes do not need speed, they need the tool to overcome learning barriers, Rubricates can be designed in your class on a standalone, Multi-grade schools that received an electronic whiteboard can use the thrown-away, slow, stand-alones with our LTSM software.

David Mathe
Friday, 13 November, 2009

As Mark remarked, it may depend on the school’s vision. There will always be a place for older Pcs within the school or the community around the school. While they may not be as easy to maintain as newer PCs, i think sometimes schools need advice and guidance on how to best dispose of/use older PCs. Some schools simply request/choose to buy newer computers as a fashion accessory…to move with the times!

Dereck Marnewick
Friday, 13 November, 2009

How very true, Kobus. Those of us involved in technology are always quick to move on to the latest perceived ‘fad’. The decision to move on or replace should be based on sound well researched decisions, and these decisions should be made to further the educational needs of the schools.
I’ve often wondered what would happen when the equipment supplied by the WCED via the Khanya Project becomes a hassle to maintain.

Pieter
Saturday, 14 November, 2009

Wat met hardeware gebeur hang baie af van die gebruikers. ‘n Kreatiewe persoon sal met ‘n ou rekenaar baie meer uitrig as iemand met minimale kennis en min kratiwiteit met die nuutste tegnologie. Die uitdaging in ‘n skool is dan juis by die bestuur wat moet besluit waar die rekenaars die beste aangewend word voor vervangingstyd. Ons het bv. ‘n beleid waar die nuutste tegnologie altyd eerste inbeweeg by die IKT lokaal, ouer rekenaars na die mediasentrum en aktiwiteitsentrum en word daarna gekyk na die verskillende behoeftes by admin. Die rekenaars wat ons van ontslae moet raak is regtig nie meer geskik vir verdere gebruik nie, ons het al vie tweedehandse rekenaarhandelaars genader om die rekenaartoerusting verniet by ons te kom haal, hulle stel ook nie belang nie. Die goed word dan maar, waar moontlik voetstoots verniet weggegee en die res word weggegooi. IS daar tans herwinningsmaatskappye wat mens kan nader om die toerusting te verwyder?

Pieter
Saturday, 14 November, 2009

Net nog ‘n gedagte wat my bygeval het… Ons fokus so baie op die hardeware, maar eintlik gaan dit ook oor die sagteware. Die regte kombinasie van sagteware met die regte hardeware sal skole weer baie anders laat kyk na hulle ouer rekenaars! Daar is baie leiding hieroor nodig, skole is nie altyd bewus van die regte aanwending van ‘n verskeidenheid sagteware wat op ouer rekenaars gebruik kan word nie. Ek dink bv. aan goeie DOS programme, netwerkstasies, Linux met al sy toepassings, databasistoepassings, sleutelbordvaardighede, wiskunde toepassings, ens. ens…

Ons het ‘n ou rekenaar (destydse 386) met mono-skerm gevat, die namiddagklasleerders (in 2001!)het in Clipper (databasisprogram) ‘n program geskryf wat ‘n inlog program vir personeel is en die rekenaar, nog ten volle in gebruik, het sy eervolle plek nog steeds in ons voorportaal waar personeel elke oggend in-en-uit teken en is so populêr dat ek al vir verskeie skole die program verniet weggegee het en iemand ‘n gebruik het vir ‘n ou rekenaar! Kobus, jy sal seker nog die era onthou van Dbase en Clipper en die fantastiese programme wat daarin geskryf is. Gaan kyk maar by baie moderne, groot hardewarewinkels orals.. baie gebruik nog DOS en Novel gebasseerde sagteware omdat so stabiel, koste-effektief en vinnig is! (Clipper en Dbase (Foxbase) was een van daardie onsterflike geslag sagteware. Geen wonder ‘n groot reus soos Microsoft het nog steeds invoeropsies vir DBF lêers vir Excel en Access. Baie het gedink DOS en Clipper (en ander) sou ‘n vinnige dood sterf, maar helaas…

Mark C
Saturday, 14 November, 2009

Pieter het dit reg. Vandag se programme is “resource hungry” en dit kan hardeware baie laat “verouder”. Kyk maar na Vista en Windows 7 . Daar is maar min kompers wat deesdae minder as 1GB RAM nodig het om redelik te kan funksioneer. Daar is ander programme wat op ouer masjiene loop, maar dit verg ‘n bietjie meer tyd om te leer. Daar is ‘n wereld sonder Windows wat mense nie (wil) raak sien nie want dit is nie waaraan hulle gewoond is nie. Indien die hardeware nie die gees gee nie, sal die opdatering van sagteware dit tot stilstand bring.

Zubeida Davids
Sunday, 15 November, 2009

I definitely agree that computers that are old can be used in places where people do not have access to it. It does not mean it is old it has no use. I have found that many private companies including schools which are aslo companies just feel the need of having new computers when it is just 4 years old. I have had my computer for almost 6 years and also got my job done. It does not need to be connected to a server but can work as a standalone. We are waisting too much unneccesssary money on resources sometimes. I also advise schools to use the old if it is functional and have it placed in classes if they have any useable old ones. It is a sad to see how some good ones are lying around in dumps while there are so many impoverished schools who need them. You want every school to have the best but why must they wait so long to have access to it if there are usable computers lying around at various companies. I have just heard on Friday from an educator how the universities just through out a PC if a button of the keyboard don’t work / something simple that can be fixed and the computer is fully fuctional. Laptops as well. I said if they now of these places they should write letters to them and request assistance to their schools or learners. Take the good out of this, I think sometimes people take writing a letter or collecting too much of an effort unless it is for their own personal use. Thinking progressively with maybe doing a survey at various institutions and request those computers in good condition can save schools some money. I know with this manpower and time is needed at a school. But what do have to loose by trying?

Eastern
Sunday, 15 November, 2009

Vanuit die oogpunt van ons leerders. Moenie ons leerders in die skole onderskat nie. Hulle kennis van die nuutste tegnologie is soms verstommend. As jy vandag aan hulle ‘n Nokia 3310 wys, sal hulle jou maklik uitlag. Wys aan hulle die nuutste Nokia, dan gesels jy op hulle vlak. Aan die ander kant, wat van die kind wat nog nooit die voorreg gehad het om selfs ‘n Nokia 3310 te besit nie – hulle sal tevrede wees met die minste. Ja, skole moet ‘n plan van aksie het om op ‘n jaarlikse basis nuwe tegnologie in die skole te bring, maar dit moet nie so gebeur dat die ouer rekenaars in stoorkamers beland nie. Alle tegnologie het ‘n lewensduur tot wanneer dit moet vervang word, maar hierdie besluit moet oordeelkundig benader word. Die realiteit van die saak is dat ouer rekenaars meer probleme gee as nuwer rekenaars en dit bekom dan ‘n groot fustrasie in ons skole. Maar dit is baie hartseer om te sien hoeveel rekenaars in stoorkamers beland. My vraag is, het dit daar beland omdat dit stukkend is, of bloot omdat daar ‘n hunkering na nuwer tegnologie was. My hele uitgangspunt is dat, terwyl ‘n rekenaar nog in ‘n werkende toestand is, wees kreatief en vind maniere uit hoe dit nog effektief gebruik kan word, of verkoop dit terwyl dit nog werk, of skenk dit aan skole wat nie so bevoorreg is nie. In dieselfde asem wil ek tog skole vermaan om nie toe te sien dat tegnologie in skole te verouderd te raak voordat vervang word nie. Die opvoeders mag hul entoesiasme langs die pad verloor en die leerders mag nie meer so gefasineerd wees om na die rekenaarlokaal te gaan nie. Verandering is altyd goed solank dit ten voordeel van die onderrigproses is. Ek is ook seker dat skole veel eerder geld sal wil bestee op nuwer tegnologie, as om elke keer die ou rekenaars reg te wil maak. “Time and money well spend”.

Gail Ahrends
Monday, 16 November, 2009

Thanks for the blog entry Kobus. My comments:

When this project started out, the labs were created, and this was done along with the service managers, to add more computers as funds became available. I now noticed, this cannot be realized as one Service manager indicated, old technology cannot be joined to new technology, yes too much work to connect these older computers, I suppose. That now means once one or two computers cannot be repaired, the project has to furnish the schools with a full new lab with once again, half the number of learners in the largest class. Why then the large classes with extra points??? One school got computers from companies in the area but these computers could never work properly. Software could not be installed, and problems were endless. The result, a new lab needs to be supplied to this school. What happens with the older computers, yes, they will be placed in the classrooms, not on a network and used as standalones, but that is not the issue, the issue is the computers that are replaced in the lab, is there not an easier way to reimage computers? I heard of a school that has a contract with a company and this company replaces old computers after two years. This year the company replaced 2, yes, only two computers. How does this company manage to reimage those two computers and this school has no problems with software installation, etc.

Graham
Monday, 16 November, 2009

Please, don’t throw the old computers away, there’s always someone who can use it, unless it has died a peaceful death.
Even the much older PC’s can still be used to teach basic computer skills and etiquette. I visit lots of school where teachers are struggling with training of Word, Excel, etc. Not because they are SLOW learners, but because they can’t use the MOUSE correctly. What about some DOS games on an old computer just to practice MOUSE SKILLS?? Left click, right click, double click, scrolling, etc. Just a thought…

ADRI
Wednesday, 27 January, 2010

waar kan ons ou rekenaars weggooi. help asb. Ons is in Centurion

kvanwyk
Thursday, 28 January, 2010

Adri, ek stel voor jy met jou plaaslike Onderwysdepartement in aanraking kom. Hulle sal jou kan verwys na organisasies wat our rekenaars kan “recycle”.

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