Printing costs represent one of the greatest expenses for schools, after staffing. The average school will spend between $30,000 and $50,000 on paper alone, expending almost 6 million sheets of paper per year. That is before considering the bill for printing consumables, such as equipment and toner.
Not only is this a huge drain on school’s already tight financial resources, the environmental impact is enormous. A typical school consumes approximately 75 trees per year, contributing to deforestation, water pollution and potentially hazardous waste including toxic inks, dyes and polymers.
Recycling is one way to combat the environmental impact, however recycling comes with its own costs, including to the environment. In reducing the environmental footprint, recycling should be the last option, not the first, which means schools should be looking to reduce the volume of paper and consumables required as a priority.
Schools can reduce their reliance on paper in a number of ways. Using electronic devices such as tablets in the classroom might seem expensive; however, a study by Oklahoma State University found that the implementation of tablet-based learning was actually more cost-effective for parents and schools, decreasing the need for hardcopy textbooks as well as day-to-day printing.
With over 15,000 educational apps available for iPads and iPhones, some schools have found innovative ways to use tablets to save money, for instance to administer tests, to take notes, record lectures and annotate electronic hand-outs, such as slides and study guides, to undertake homework tasks and assignments, both at home and in the classroom.
Some teachers use digital portfolios to keep a record of student work, while students can download thousands of classic books for use with any mobile device thanks to Project Gutenburg, which offers more than 56,000 free eBooks.
Another way schools can reduce their environmental footprint is to change the way they communicate.
Use of apps like Dropbox allow schools to distribute and receive materials electronically, while apps such as Google Docs allow teachers and students to create, share and collaborate, with sophisticated privacy settings to restrict access to edit or view content as needed. Using electronic repositories for documents means teachers and students can access their work from any location, so there is no need to worry about lost pieces of paper.
Another way schools can reduce their environmental footprint is to change the way they communicate. Moving communication online and/or mobile means parents can receive newsletters electronically, provide absence notes and permission slips online, perform electronic payments, access information as and when they need it, keep track of events via electronic calendars, and even get directions to the sports carnival.
Most parents these days rely heavily on mobile devices to fit everything into their busy schedules. Using mobile devices to interact with schools makes sense. Rather than an added burden, it brings school communication in line with everyday technology. Parents expect to be able to perform routine administrative tasks online, to email rather than telephone, without the need to fumble with hardcopy notices that may or may not make it out of their child’s schoolbag. In this way, mobile apps not only reduce school’s reliance on paper, and reduce printing costs; they assist schools to meet parent’s expectations.
The shift away from paper in schools is growing, and with the technology available today schools can take advantage of so much more to reduce the drain on our natural resources and their bottom line.