Rather than sending 5-year-old obsolete computers to recyclers who strip the precious metals from computers before dumping them in landfills, Gilbert’s Highland High School and Highland Junior High are sending theirs to India and West Africa.
Five years ago, a technology budget override allowed Gilbert Unified School District to refresh, or replace, all obsolete technology on a five-year cycle. This year was Highland’s turn for new technology.
Sheila Scanlan, an AP environmental science teacher at Highland and adjunct faculty member at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, saw a solution to two problems.
Besides finding a way to extend the life of technology before it ended up in a landfill, Scanlan saw a way to help those in other parts of the world.
“It’s like the saying, ‘You give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life,’” Scanlan said. “It’s more than just charity.”
In this case, the computers will be sent to India, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria, said Osee Romeo Tcheupgoum, the associate facilitator of University Community Partnership for Social Action Research Network, part of the Psychology Department at Arizona State University.
“We at the UCPSARnet believe that education is one of the most powerful instruments for human dignity, the modern world and is a central instrument for human development on a foundation for sustained cultural and socio-economic growth,” Tcheupgoum said.
The computers will be wiped clean, upgraded and shipped to Ghana, where they will be distributed, Tcheupgoum said.
“It’s still a usable technology for a place that has nothing else and that needs it,” Scanlan said.
It’s also one more way beyond collecting batteries, CFLs and old cell phones, that Scanlan and her students can help change the world, she said.
“There’s a saying that’s been circulating on Facebook,” she said, “It’s something like, ‘If you think one person can’t make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.’ That’s what we’re trying to do, to be that mosquito.”
In years prior, the district has paid for recycling companies to strip the precious metals from the computers, said Jennifer Merrill, the technology projects coordinator at Gilbert school district. The remaining plastics are sent to a landfill.
“Every year, we have teachers and employees who offer to buy the computers from the school,” Merrill said.
But while the computers are still usable, the district is required to recycle them, Merrill said. Typically, a recycler pays about 15 cents per pound. In a previous year, the district had auctioned off computers, but lost money, she said.
“Basically, the district can’t make money and it can’t lose money,” Merrill said.
Obsolete laptops and desktop computers typically become e-waste, the term given to discarded electronic products.
When UCPSARnet agreed to buy the computers, it agreed to buy them at an even higher rate than what would be paid by a recycler, Merrill said.
The 341 desktops were purchased at $7 each and the 126 laptops at $5 each, for a total of $3,017, she said.
The project, Scanlan said, is something other schools, districts and even companies, could do. She hopes that next year when the district again refreshes the technology, it will be able to buy computers from Gilbert school district again.
“We can get discouraged,” Scanlan said. “With all the walls and hurdles, but I learned I can be a mosquito.”
Next, the project is looking to collect donations to help cover the cost of shipping and processing, a cost estimated at approximately $4,000, Scanlan said.
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