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Mark Taylor

Written by staff at Sirius Corporation, the Open Source services group, this blog seeks to dispel any FUD around the use of Open Source software in the Enterprise and provide perspectives on business, economics, politics, philosophy and the environment.

Can we give every school child in the UK a Linux notebook and still save money?

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The simple answer is 'yes' we could do it now and we will save the taxpayer millions of pounds.

In previous posts I have documented the exponential rise in school ICT costs over the past 20 years. The articles focussed on costing ICT fully. This meant summing the costs of software purchase, software licensing, hardware replacement cycle, support costs and for the first time, electricity costs. The latter now make up 20% of the total ICT spend of a secondary school's £100,000-£200,000 annual total.

Missing from the earlier work, for which I apologise, were peripherals such as printers and photocopiers.

My motivation for revisiting the topic came from finding out that laser printer and photocopiers use identical technologies and typically draw 1.5 kw when active and 200 watts on standby. As I happen to be working with a secondary school at the moment I was able to investigate further.

The school's electricity cost accruing from printing and photocopying was under £1000 per year at current prices: I confess to a being a little disappointed I had imagined it was more and it did not amount to more than an extra few PCs.

The shock came, though, when the total number of sheets of A4 that passed through plain paper faxes, photocopiers and laser printers were calculated. It came to 4,450,000 per year. Or, in this school, 8,000 copies per child and one copy every 2 secs per year with a total cost of just below £100,000! The entire T5 airport terminal project only produced 8,000,000 copies per year and they ran 24/7.

The question was instantly begged 'is this normal for schools?'. It turns out it is.

Chosen at random, a City Academy and a few 'bog standard comps' (not my choice of phrase) produce similar numbers of prints as does my test school and have similar bills. To be fair, my school had 700 students and the others more like 1400, so they are more 'economical'.

Simple sums produce scale-up figures for the UK schools, these are: 20 billion prints at 500 million pounds per annum.

Let's take a step back. The last 20 years has seen the massive development of ICT in schools from a standing start to a ratio of one computer for every four students. The same period saw the first photocopier in schools and the first laser printer ( I remember carrying our one in ).

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