Everything they know, they learned before kindergarten – about computers, anyway.
“The reason I like laptops and computers is because they make work so much easier,” says seven-year-old Jackie Cogan. “They are very, very fast. You can play lots of games and they are so helpful. I think everyone should have a computer or a laptop. They are so cool.”
Wisdom from the mouths of babes. Just a few short years ago, Cogan would likely not have had the opportunity to try her hand at the new technology unless her parents had a PC at home. Now, thanks to programs like Computers for Schools Ontario (CFSO), Cogan and her second-grade classmate Ben Saunders, also seven years old, can’t say enough about what they have been able to accomplish.
“This year, because we have computers, I can do really great stories on it,” Saunders said from an office at his school, Plumtree Park Public in Peel Region west of Toronto. “I did a story on the laptop. It was about the west, but I forget the name of it. I like using them a lot and I like learning stuff and playing games on them.”
Saunders, who has been using computers for three years already, says he is proficient at using word processing and Disney software and can type 50 words a minute.
“Sometimes my mom lets me surf the Internet,” he added.
CFSO, which has delivered more than 100,000 computers to provincial schools since its birth in 1998, packs a double whammy. It gives computers to schools and also saves 2,000 metric tons of equipment from an untimely retirement in Canadian landfills, where it’s thought that toxins can seep out and potentially poison surrounding areas.
“We actively go out into the community and to organizations and request their surplus computers,” said James LeCraw, executive director of CFSO. “They agree to give them to us, either because they support education or because they want a tax receipt or both, or because it keeps them out of landfills.”
The organization finds out from the schools what students want, then picks up computers, printers and other equipment and takes it all to a refurbishment centre. Employees can then take all the labels off, clean them up and load them with some software. At first, business was booming with the CFSO. Now, however, things have slowed down a little more than LeCraw would like.
“The donations are a little lower than we would like because, right now, the demand exceeds the supply,” he said, explaining that there is about a three-month waiting period and the organization is operating at about 50 per cent capacity. “A year ago, we were just buried in computers as part of the overflow from Y2K. Maybe people are hanging on to them a little longer to weather the clouds of recession.”
LeCraw points to large corporations as the best donators because equipment tends to be high-end and clean.
Paul VanderHelm, vice-principal at Plumtree Park, said it is vital that the computers come user-ready.
“When they arrive, you just plug them in and go,” he said. “Sometimes they would get there and unless you had someone who was really handy, you would have 30 computers sitting around that no one had time to work on to get them ready to use.”
But any way he gets the equipment, he is happy to see it come because of a common problem facing public schools in Ontario and across the country.
“There’s no money,” he said. “There are still some parents out there who say they want me to prove to them that spending $1,200 on that computer is better than spending $1,200 on books for that classroom. Sometimes, as much as I am a strong proponent of technology and integrating it into the classroom, I find it hard to answer that question.”
Thanks to donations, he doesn’t have to.