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Paper use in schools

So a while back I posted a link to an survey I conducted.  I didn't have an enormous amount of respondents, but I'll share the results with you.

First it should be noted that there is some selection bias.  Actually probably LOTS of selection bias, given that this survey was conducted entirely online and that people who read this blog, or found the link to the survey through Twitter are probably pretty IT savvy.  That being said, you might still end up being surprised with the results.

There were two questions on the survey.  

1.  How many sheets of paper (approximately) do you use in a day?
2.  How many teachers do you have in your school?

The lowest answer to the first question was 1 single sheet of paper a day (good for you!) and the highest was 75.  The lowest answer to question number 2 was 6 teachers and the highest was 170.  The 11 respondents used a total of 326 sheets of paper a day, or just over 26 sheets each.  Probably this is pretty good, I would expect that a typical teacher probably uses more.

According to these results, a typical school in which these respondents work uses about 2000 sheets of paper a day, or about 360,000 sheets in a school year.  Of course there are thousands of schools in Canada and the US (where most of the teachers who responded probably live), 96,000 or so in the US (or 120,000 depending on who you believe) and this means that more than 34 billion sheets of paper are used each year just in the United States.  Assuming that each sheet costs a mere 5 cents (photocopy paper at Office Depot apparently costs 38 cents) a sheet, then to provide paper to every child in the US each year for school costs about 2 billion dollars a year.

For comparison, providing each child in the US with a $100 laptop (recently available on the market) would cost about 8 billion dollars assuming even the little kindergarten children get one.  In other words, we could pay for a laptop per child in the US in 4 years by stopping using paper in schools.  Oh and that laptop can also replace the paper...

Of course if the people surveyed are far from standard, then maybe schools actually use twice as much (or even four times as much) paper, in which case the amount of time it would take for the savings from not using paper to turn into laptops would be reduced to half (or even a quarter) of the time estimated.  In other words, we could potentially turn billions of pieces of paper into every child in the US having a laptop.

Now I'm using US numbers here for this calculation (because the supporting figures are easier to find) but it shouldn't take you long to realize that this is probably true of any industrialized nation with similar expenditures on paper.  Perhaps we can use some financial arguments to persuade our legislators to put some good tools into the hands of our students?

About David

David is a Formative Assessment Specialist for Mathematics at New Visions for Public Schools in NYC. He has been teaching since 2002, and has worked in Brooklyn, London, Bangkok, and Vancouver before moving back to the United States. He has his Masters degree in Educational Technology from UBC, and is the co-author of a mathematics textbook. He has been published in ISTE's Leading and Learning, Educational Technology Solutions, The Software Developers Journal, The Bangkok Post and Edutopia. He blogs with the Cooperative Catalyst, and is the Assessment group facilitator for Edutopia. He has also helped organize the first Edcamp in Canada, and TEDxKIDS@BC.

Comments

thanks this helped alot with my homework just 1 point that you missed out is that switching from paper to laptops we would save a lot of trees from being cut down so im trying to work out why no-one has suggested this in parliment :-S hopefully they will sometime :-)

this helped a lot with my research

thanks. how much money does the average school spend a year on paper? wouldn't iPads be a better choice than laptops? just something to chew on. this kinda helped with a project for health. thanks again

i love this website. All this wonderful information helped me a lot with my water conservation project.I figured out that an average school uses 720 reems of paper each year. It takes 1321 gallons of water to make one reem of paper.And last but not least an average school waste 950400 gallons of water each year in using paper. i am with you that we should eliminate paper at school.
:)

Hey David i was wondering what schools said this elementary middle or high school please respond
(P.s im using your site for a research project)

David Wees's picture

Sorry, I didn't ask for that information, but it obviously would have been useful to do so.

Well thanks anyways david you have been a big help

I am 100% in agreement. I teach at TC Williams in Alexandria, VA and each student from 9-12 grades are given a laptop to use. They are allowed to take it home. We have an office of techs available to help them whenever they need it. I teach Spanish. Since I started teaching here 4 years ago, I have come to LOVE the laptops. I am so proud that we can use the laptops instead of paper. The laptops are also so much more interesting and I can teach with so many wonderful tools. Blackboard, Power point, Photo Story... I have them visit authentic Spanish websites from all over the world. I could go on and on. Now the downside. You would think that with the laptops available all the administrators and teachers would be on board. However, many teachers still use a lot of paper. I am completely shocked by it. Some administrators actually speak negatively about the use of the laptops in class. (Too much!) ?!?!? So, be prepared! If a school chooses to adopt the laptops, which to me is one of the best ideas EVER, be prepared for those who are afraid to change.

I am proud to say that I have saved a lot of paper this year!

This was really helpful!! I am working on a public forum debate about allowing mobile devices in the classroom so... Thanks! Has this affected your teaching in any ways? 

I'm all for reducing paper use, but surely there's a significant environmental cost to making all these laptops, and for the electricity to charge them every day?! Then a longer term problem of disposing of them at the end of their life.

David Wees's picture

Absolutely true. So the question is; as I have not analyzed the environmental costs of paper; how do the environmental costs of paper compare to the environmental costs of laptops that replace the use of that paper?

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