A crisis tends to bring the best out of folk, even in the viper’s nest of social media. Since the UK announced its third nationwide Coronavirus lockdown last night, I’ve seen lots of well-intentioned people on Twitter/Facebook offering to drop old laptops and tablets at schools so they can be passed to children who need them for home learning.
It’s a nice gesture, but misguided. Here’s why and what you really can do to help if you’ve got working equipment you no longer need.
Schools can’t cope with second-hand equipment
Schools simply don’t want and can’t cope with a ragbag of donated old equipment.
Before it could be passed to pupils, a donated computer would need to be securely wiped, updated, equipped with security software and properly tested for electrical faults — that would take many hours for a dedicated IT support team, and most schools don’t have those. Imagine the furore if a school simply passed old laptops to pupils and it was found to contain pornography or malware that compromised the webcam.
Even if a school did have dedicated IT support or a willing teacher, the school would then be left to support a wide variety of hardware configurations when faults inevitably occur further down the line. It’s simply not practical.
Dropping off an old laptop/tablet at the school gates would likely do more harm than good, and would almost certainly result in the hardware ending up at a local tip.
There are much better ways you can help if you have an old laptop that you want to see given a new home.
Send it to a reuse scheme
There are loads of different computer reuse schemes across the UK where you can donate old equipment. These organisations are set up to securely wipe and recondition hardware before donating it to local people in need, which is a much better option than simply dropping it off at a local school, for example.
The Restart Project has a list of local schemes on its website. It’s by no means exhaustive and largely focused on major cities, but it’s a good starting point.
There’s another list at the IT For Charities site, which includes both reuse and recycling schemes.
If you can’t find one local to you on the lists, try typing the name of your town and city into Google along with the term “computer reuse scheme” and see what pops up. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of these schemes running across the UK.
Recondition the laptop yourself
The other alternative is to recondition the laptop yourself and give it to a family that you know are in need of equipment for home schooling.
If you’re going down this route, you’ve got an old Windows laptop and you’re reasonably tech savvy, I’d recommend installing Neverware’s CloudReady software.
This software effectively turns the laptop into a Chromebook. That means the new owner won’t be bogged down with Windows updates, won’t have to worry about security software, and has a lightweight operating system that should allow their kids to do the vast majority of their online homework. The only potential problem could be installing apps, such as Microsoft Teams, which isn’t supported by CloudReady – although kids should be able to use the browser-based version of the apps.
If the receiving family definitely want Windows, make sure to fully reset the PC before donating, following Microsoft’s instructions here.
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