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Hillsboro schools need to boost technology

As the bell rings for lunch, my friend frantically runs around the 12 computers in the Glencoe High School library, looking for an open computer. He is followed by four others, each seeking to finish their assignments before class resumes. However, the outlook for my friend and his fellow peers is grim. On an average day, more than half of the computers are out of order. My friend finally accesses a computer, and rushes to finalize and print his essay. Sadly, before he is able to issue the print command, the computer unpredictably crashes and shuts down.

The advent of digital technology has allowed mankind to make massive advancements, from 3-D printing to auto-piloting space vehicles. But who knew that technology could be counterproductive?

Well, in Hillsboro’s high schools, counterproductive technology has become a reality. Outdated technology in the Hillsboro School District causes students to lose valuable class time and prevents them from learning to interact with technology — a key skill for tomorrow’s work force.

Eluded by the supposedly easy access to information and faster organization, thousands of students in our city’s school system log on to computers every day. Due to old technology, they waste valuable amounts of time doing so. It has gotten to the point where less work gets done in the computer lab than with a pencil and paper. This is why I add my laptop to my already heavy backpack every morning when I bike to school.

This problem wasn’t generated overnight. The budget for our schools has been cut $70 million since 2009, but nowhere is this deficit more obvious than in our technology. The school district’s response to this growing problem was to use monetary “brute force” to solve the symptoms. All computers in the district were updated. Windows 7 replaced Windows XP. Performance dropped further as computers that barely managed to run Windows XP struggled to run the more advanced operating system.

A way to avoid these desktop computers was created. Dubbed as “Mobile Computer Labs,” these heavy metal carts appeared in middle and high schools. The carts contained small laptops and even Chromebooks. Unfortunately, these small laptops are even slower than the desktops. To make matters worse, they lack the power to run other software needed in certain classes, such as computer-aided design, a program central to Glencoe’s engineering classes.

Finally, a plan was proposed. A school bond measure was on the ballot, and if approved, routers and networking would be advanced. The support would be beefed up so computers wouldn’t be left “out of order” for weeks at a time. Most importantly, the old, most widely used desktop computers, with their dusty Pentium processors, would finally be replaced. This technology bond had a price tag of $25 million, which would be paid for by a property tax increase. The bond was put up to a vote.

That November day, I squinted my eyes and wiped the dust off the old cathode ray tube computer monitor at school to read the election results. I was pained to find the bond had failed, with 54 percent of voters against it.

Why is this a sad ending?

Discouraged students are simply not able to use technology to work effectively. They choose to not use computers even when given the option. Sixty-four percent of Americans use computers in the workplace, more than any other electronic device, including mobile phones. Yet our education system inhibits the experience of technology in a productive environment.

This problem is more acute when considering students who may not have access to technology anywhere else. I have been spoiled by having my laptop at school, but many others do not have the same option. In the 30-minute lunch break given by all high schools in Hillsboro, I spent over 10 minutes just logging on to a computer before I had my laptop. Looking up a few simple facts on the computer took over 15 minutes, leaving me just five minutes to hastily save and print the assignment (if the computer doesn’t inexplicably crash within this time).

Students who don’t have access to computers outside of school will not become proficient at working with them. This is because they will either accomplish few tasks of true merit using the computers, or they will choose productivity over computers. This will heighten challenges in the future, where computers are a vital part of daily productivity in numerous industries.

If the workplace is changing, and school is meant to prepare students for a productive life ahead, then it is only right that the technology in our schools keep up with this changing environment.

Ashwin Datta is a sophomore at Glencoe High School and a member of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council.

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