New life for old laptops – a new EPE initiative

Submitted on Tuesday, 23/06/2020

Insight EPE Manager Brendan Smith has developed a new initiative in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. He writes below:

The sudden closure of schools in March due to COVID-19 and the lockdown that followed led to a dramatic change in Irish education as online teaching resources had to be provided at short notice to students particularly for those expecting to undertake Leaving Certificate examinations within weeks.

The lockdown exposed a considerable technology gap in society with many families not being able to afford the laptops that now became an essential device for their children to access and download online educational courses and teaching materials.

This need was partly answered by the generosity of companies and individuals donating second-hand laptops and by tech-savvy volunteers willing to wipe private data off hard disks and by installing new software before the hardware could be distributed to those in need. However issues of paying for new software licences and the technical expertise required to properly reimage (wipe date/install software programmes) laptops were of concern.

To come up with a solution that could help students in their time of need and to face up to the challenges of providing the necessary secure equipment, the technical personnel at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics NUI Galway compiled easy-to-follow video and written instructions that would allow people all over the country to reimage laptops by wiping off all data and installing free open-sourced operating systems and other key software such as browser, word processing and spreadsheet.

Though the Leaving Certificate 2020 examinations have been cancelled, nevertheless the demand for laptops will only increase as more and more second level educational resources and testing will henceforth be provided online. Therefore we feel that this free reimaging instructional video and text manual is now needed more than ever. It will become an important public service as it will empower ordinary people in towns and villages across Ireland to become digital fixers and a technical resource within their local communities. It will give a new lease of life to old laptops and in the process lower electronic waste (which is one of the fastest growing and most toxic waste streams in the world), reduce carbon emissions and provide a more sustainable circular economic model. The Insight initiative is now part of a larger NUI Galway wide movement coordinated by the university’s Access Office that, as part of its University of Sanctuary designation, will prioritise those students and their communities who are most vulnerable to technological inequality. It will be modelled on the highly successful ‘Tech2Students’ collaboration between Trinity Access (TCD) and Camara Education Ireland.

The video is available here