Energy crisis in schools: Is the edtech sector doing enough to become energy efficient?

In this guest post, Angela Townsend, director of channel sales at edtech provider SMART Technologies, talks about the impact rising energy prices are having on school IT systems. 

The rising cost of energy is expected to impact almost every industry. None more so than schools, however.

Figures from the House of Commons Library show that gas and electricity prices in schools increased by 83% during the first quarter of this year. Some schools reported rises of more than 300%. As we head into the start of a new school year, those figures are set to increase even further, with some schools reporting an eye-watering 500% increase in predicted energy bills this winter.

For most schools, the budgets to cover increasing costs are simply not available and some are already saying they may be required to turn off IT equipment to conserve energy. Allowing this to happen would be a travesty to the progress made to digitise classrooms over the past decade.

Schools – supported by the Department for Education (DfE) – have invested millions in classroom technology – and rightly so. Like most sectors, the sector had to completely transform the way lessons were delivered during Covid-19 and without the implementation of technology that had already been adopted before the pandemic, the transition to remote learning would not have been possible.

Tech-centred learning

Technology’s ability to enhance learning has been a focus for the DfE for some time. In 2019 it released a dedicated strategy on edtech titled ‘Realising the potential of technology in education’. It speaks of education technology’s ability to support access, inclusion and improved education outcomes for all, which we are already witnessing in everyday teaching today. However, the rising cost of energy is putting this hard work and effort from both the public and private sector to increase adoption of edtech at risk.

The energy crisis has solidified the importance of edtech providers in ensuring their solutions are as energy efficient as possible. This is, of course, nothing new. Net zero targets and the education sector’s pressures to reduce its carbon emissions means most edtech providers have already started to look at ways of making their products and devices more energy efficient. What this latest energy crisis has done, however, is bring to the forefront just how vital energy-efficient edtech is if schools are to continue to adopt and embrace technology in classrooms.

Schools, trusts and edtech providers are being forced to review their solutions and ask themselves whether their current ICT strategy and infrastructure is designed for longevity and energy efficiency. The only way to assess this accurately is for schools to measure it themselves and consider how much carbon is generated per pupil.

Comparing their technology with other energy-efficient solutions will allow schools to compare and assess the energy consumption needed to power their ICT, and decide whether turning off IT completely is required, or whether reducing energy consumption in other non-IT areas could bring energy bills down enough until this current crisis is over.

At SMART, we are constantly reviewing the energy efficiency of our products and we have been incredibly proud of our progress. Our interactive panels can save up to 52% on energy costs and 50% less energy on average when compared to other panels available on the market. Meanwhile, we are continuously adding teaching material to our digital learning platform, Lumio, a cloud-based edtech solution, reducing schools’ reliance on costly and inefficient on-premise servers.

But we’re not resting on our laurels. The education sector is blighted by budget cuts so making edtech solutions as cheap as possible to run, and energy efficient, is key to the successful implementation of ICT in the classroom in the long run. It’s estimated that funding per pupil between 2010 and 2020 has fallen 9%, which demonstrates just how challenging the financial landscape is for schools.

Now is a crucial time for edtech providers and those serving the education sector’s ICT strategies to assess their products and make sure they serve the financial needs of schools. If we don’t, we risk the progress of edtech adoption that has been made over the last few years being lost in the midst of this next crisis.

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