TECHNOLOGY IS NO LONGER A NOVELTY for K-12 institutions. School districts, teachers, and parents are looking to IT to solve problems and deliver outcomes. For channel pros, that makes the K-12 market a sizable opportunity that extends beyond hardware and software sales.
“The market is now about end-to-end product solutions,” says Peter DiMarco, vice president of VAR sales at D&H Distributing. Beyond equipping students with devices and applications, he notes, school districts are investing in networks, bandwidth, wireless access, campus safety, and cutting-edge science- and technology-focused tools.
Getting into the K-12 market can be intimidating to the uninitiated, however, given the seasonal budget cycles, numerous funding models, and various stakeholders involved in approving purchases. “You’ve got state funding, federal funding, and county budgets,” DiMarco explains. Moreover, smaller and rural school districts often face budget constraints, says Eddie Franklin, vice president of sales at the Westcon-Comstor division of IT distributor SYNNEX Corp. Nevertheless, the K-12 market is a growing opportunity. “The estimated IT spend in K-12 for 2018 was $14 billion, and education technology spending continues to tick upward each year,” Franklin says.
The uptick is based on several factors, not least of which is decreasing price points for mobile devices, which is promoting adoption of so-called “one-to-one computing” initiatives that supply each student with a laptop or tablet. “There was a huge pent-up demand of schools wanting to bring digital learning resources into the classrooms and there was no business case to do that when devices cost $1,000 a piece,” says Kelly Calhoun Williams, a Gartner analyst and former school administrator.
The advent of the Chromebook and a wave of Windows laptops with sub-$300 price tags changed the equation, however, enabling school districts to invest in devices often in place of textbooks. In addition, low-income K-12 schools and districts are eligible to receive discounts between 20% and 90% on specific telecommunications and internet services via the FCC’s E-rate program. “The program is for infrastructure kinds of stuff,” say Williams. “Schools can’t use it to buy computers, but it potentially frees up dollars so the district can spend its money on content, applications, or cybersecurity.”
Another factor driving technology spend is workforce preparedness. As IT permeates through industries, schools are rolling out similar technologies in order to equip students with in-demand workforce skills. In effect, says Franklin, “as the world becomes more digital, schools are forced to keep pace.”
The changing nature of teaching is also compelling the classroom use of IT. “Teachers are shifting away from serving as front-of-classroom instructors and more toward the role of guides and facilitators,” Franklin explains. “As students become more active learners, there is a growing demand for digital tools that facilitate that personalized learning.”
The new role of teacher as facilitator is driving new forms of learning as well. In this “blended” virtual and physical classroom, students work on projects collaboratively at school and independently at home.