Parents may have to pay as free school laptops need replacing

Three years after Flemish schools started giving laptops to all pupils from the fifth grade and higher, the first laptops are due for replacement. Some heads have already ordered new laptops, but it is not yet clear who will pay, De Tijd writes on Tuesday.

The Flemish government's Digisprong initiative dates back to the end of 2020. At that time, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the government provided free computers to all pupils in the fifth grade and higher. The project is coming to an end but new funding has not yet been found.

Flemish Education minister Ben Weyts has built up 100 million euros in savings for IT, but this is far from enough to finance another mass purchase. The 2020 purchase cost the government around 375 million euros and it was estimated that the laptops would last five years.

Rising bill for parents

The education sector fears that schools will have to pick up the tab, which would mean a higher bill for parents. Laptop suppliers are reporting that more schools are splitting the cost between the school and the parents.

"Without subsidies, a good laptop quickly costs around 700 euros. If you add 250 euros for books, you're almost at 1,000 euros," school principal Pieter Vyncke told De Tijd. "That's a lot of money for parents."

Schools are looking for savings in other areas to offset the rising costs. Paper learning materials are the most obvious candidate, as their digital equivalents are much more affordable. For example, a paper atlas costs 36 euros, a digital one 6 euros.

"Without subsidies, a good laptop quickly costs around 700 euros (…) That's a lot of money for parents"

Experts argue that students have different needs depending on their course. Graphic design students, for example, need better equipment than language students. That is why the government should differentiate according to field or study, experts say, or let schools decide what to do with the money.



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