Global Demand for K-12 Devices Outstrips Supply, Creating More Delays for Schools

Contributing Writer
Demand for K-12 devices continues to soar

Demand for Chromebooks, iPads, and Windows-based laptops continues to soar globally, outstripping manufacturing capacity and slowing the ability of school systems all around the world to secure the devices they need, according to a new analysis.

More than one year into pandemic-induced remote and hybrid learning, with record numbers of devices already shipped to schools around the world, orders for tablets and laptops are still continuing to surge, said Michael Boreham, a senior consultant for education technology at Futuresource Consulting, during a recent online presentation. 

And those device orders, fueled in many countries by unprecedented government investment, are still happening against the backdrop of a compromised supply chain that has been unable to keep pace.

In many cases, orders placed in June of last year weren’t shipped until December, and the K-12 marketplace began 2021 with a “front-end loaded” logjam of orders from the third and fourth quarters of 2020. 

There are “backlogs extending through millions of devices — which have swept through 2020 and into the start of 2021,” Boreham said during a panel at Futuresource Consulting’s Ed Tech Collaborative 2021 event.

He noted that suppliers of components such as touch screens and USB ports also remain stretched thin. 

Meanwhile, the crush of device orders coming from K-12 institutions last year exceeded analyst projections, with the global market increasing shipments by nearly 70 percent and setting a new record.

In all, Futuresource Consulting, a U.K.-based research and consulting firm, estimates 51 million tablets and laptops were shipped to K-12 schools around the world, far exceeding the 36 million device figure projected by the firm midway through 2020 and the roughly 30 million units delivered in 2019. 

Every world region reported boosting devices orders by double digits last year, in what Boreham labeled as “incredibly aggressive growth.” And there are no signs of that slowing down for now. 

“We are still continuing to see intense demand and roll out in 2021, and as we move forward into the next year we expect a similar performance in terms of units and growth rate,” he said. 

In the U.S., for example, Futuresource data shows K-12 device shipments increased by about 90 percent year-over-year in 2020, representing the largest increase of any global region.

There was an increase of nearly 85 percent in Europe, and device shipments in the Latin American market rose by 54 percent. In Asia-Pacific, shipments jumped by 35 percent, fueled in part by Japan’s pre-COVID national 1-to-1 program called the Giga school project. The Middle East/Africa market received 26 percent more devices than it did in 2019.

Government Investment Equals Growth

Boreham attributes much of that growth to an “unparalleled level of investment” from governments across the world, from Peru to Kazakhstan. But for every country rolling out the equivalent of stimulus packages aimed at bridging the so-called digital divide by investing in laptops and tablets, there were some countries that have not or simply lack the political willpower or funding to do so, he added.

The Futuresource breakdown of device shipments also included an update on overall tablet and laptop penetration in different global markets. 

Before the COVID outbreak, at the end of 2019, the U.S. was just under 60 percent in terms of K-12 device penetration and was “edging ever closer” to complete 1-to-1 as more schools were adopting digital curriculum tools. However, Boreham said the U.S. was still far from complete device saturation at the K-12 level.

Over the course of the last year, device penetration at K-12 schools in the U.S. increased to about 80 percent, and Futuresource predicts that market will move toward complete saturation over the next few years. And in Japan, where the government pushed ahead its 1-to-1 ambitions by several years in the last 12 months, device penetration increased from about 20 percent to about 50 percent.  

“Japan now sets the benchmark for where the markets need to be looking,” Boreham said. He noted that Japan’s plan to rapidly adopt devices predated the pandemic and was born out of fear that more investment needed to be made to ensure students weren’t left behind. 

Between the U.S. and Japan, the two countries “siphoned off” a lot of the global K-12 device supply. That also fueled another trend in 2020: the emergence of Chrome as the dominant operating system for laptops and tablets in schools.

In 2019, Windows operating systems were the most prevalent for K-12 devices, controlling about half the market, according to Futuresource data.

But as schools needed cheap and quickly deployable devices, they turned in greater numbers to Google’s Chrome OS by purchasing Chromebooks, said Boreham. And Futuresource estimates that Chrome how holds more than 40 percent of the market. K-12 usage of other operating systems, such as Linux, Android, iOS and Mac OS, remained mostly unchanged.

Image by Getty

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