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The return of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) and Home-Based-Learning (HBL) for school-going children is a timely reminder that the COVID-19 situation in Singapore remains as volatile as ever.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) has been pushing towards increased use of digital tools and Blended Learning. Under Blended Learning, schools will implement Home-Based Learning days and students will receive subsidised learning devices under the Personal Learning Devices in Secondary Schools. However, the roll-out of personal learning devices is currently limited to only Secondary School students (Sec 1 to 3). Graduating cohorts (Sec 4), Junior Colleges and Primary School students are not yet eligible for this scheme.
Given the short notice to switch to Home-Based Learning (HBL), families may have to share laptops between parents and child(ren). This can be disruptive to parents who have to work from home and mediate between their different children’s HBL needs.
To make Home-Based Learning (HBL) a more pleasant experience for everyone involved, or to give their children a head-start on digital learning, some families may be looking to buy a separate laptop for their child. As a parent, here are some criteria to consider while planning for a laptop purchase for your child’s HBL.
#1 Portability Vs Screen Size: Find The Goldilocks Size For Your Child
A larger screen is always better until you have to carry it around. Older children may require larger screen sizes as applications like Excel, Photoshop or AutoCAD become difficult to use with small screens. Zoom classes, where your child might need to see a teacher’s presentation and work on the laptop simultaneously, are also easier with a larger screen (or even a second screen). Coding on popular coding software for children, such as Scratch 3.0, can also become claustrophobic on smaller screens.
Screenshot of Scratch 3.0
While larger is generally better, younger children (especially those in lower Primary School levels) may have problems carrying it around if it’s big. At home during HBL, the size of the laptop is unlikely to be a problem. Eventually, however, students will have to bring their laptops to school for Blended Learning. While they may have help carrying their bag and bringing their laptop to school, if they need to carry it around to classes, it would make little sense to have them lumber around with a big bag like a Ninja Turtle.
In general, 13” – 15” laptops offer a good balance between portability and size for older children. A 11”- 13” laptop should fit comfortably within a six to eight year old’s schoolbag while being manageable for most younger children.
#2 Durability: Look For Laptops That Outlast Your Child’s Handling
Especially for young children, durability cannot be understated. Laptops can be expensive and fragile devices. Children can be very rough with their belonging and a laptop is no exception.
Fortunately, some laptops are built to last. For example, Lenovo has manufactured their ThinkPad laptops according to US Military Specifications. If it’s good enough for combat, it’s probably robust enough to withstand your child.
While there are YouTube videos of ThinkPad torture tests, we think it’s best if you do not try this at home. Such torture tests could void your warranty.
#3 Specifications: Make Sure That The Laptop Can Run The Apps Your Child Needs
One crucial factor for a laptop is whether it runs the programmes and applications your child needs, especially the apps which are commonly used for Blended Learning. Examples include Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other video conferencing apps as well as popular educational software such as Scratch 3.0 and Lego Mindstorms EV3.
In general, there are 3 main operating systems available: Windows OS, Apple OS (for Apple MacBooks) and Chrome OS (for Chromebooks).
The Windows operating system (OS) provides the most range of programmes and applications. Most educational software programmes are compatible with Windows. Windows is also the default operating system used by most schools and is the standard operating system for laptops issued to MOE teachers. Most applications are also compatible with Apple OS or have a version developed for Apple users. However, it may require some workarounds to install them. Teachers may not be familiar with Apple OS and this may make demonstrations or troubleshooting on your child’s device difficult. Chrome OS has the most limitations as it can mainly handle browser-based applications.
While Zoom’s recommended specs is 4GB RAM, the Windows operating system itself takes up a lot of RAM too. 8GB RAM is sufficient, but it may still lag if your child needs to use multiple apps alongside Zoom. Students who intend to focus on Media or Engineering studies may find 8GB RAM insufficient if they need to use power-hungry creative or design apps. Adobe Creative Suite is well-known to require higher specifications to run smoothly. Trust us when we say you do not want your laptop to hang on you while editing a video.
A recent generation Intel Core processor (an i3 or i5 processor) is generally sufficient for student use. However, graduating cohorts or those who intend their laptops to last through their polytechnic or university years may need an i5 or better processor, depending on apps they need to use for school.
Having a Solid-State Drive (SSD) rather than Hard Disk Drive (HDD) makes a world of difference, cutting the time to start up your laptop from 5 minutes to just 15 seconds. Loading apps will be a lot faster too. Additionally, for students who like do their work last minute on the way to school, using a HDD on a moving vehicle runs the risk of data corruption. While SSDs are pricier than HDDs, the extra cost is well worth it.
For most people, 256GB is sufficient while 512GB is more comfortable. Some laptops may come with both an SSD and HDD which are more versatile because you can have Microsoft Windows and other important apps on your SSD, while using the HDD for storage. Having the option to customise your laptop specifications can be helpful when you just want to upgrade certain functionalities without shelling up for a higher-end model. To cater to the different needs and preferences, Lenovo allows customers to customise their devices according to their specifications under their Build-Your-Own function. However, do note that these custom-built devices may take longer to ship than pre-built models.
Ports And Accessories
Most laptops feature at least 2 USB ports, one HDMI and one audio port, and that is what most people commonly need.
For HBL, a webcam and microphone are essential for video-conferencing. All the models come ready with built-in webcam and microphone for virtual lessons. To enhance your child’s HBL experience, you may consider add-on accessories such as the Lenovo X1 ANC Headset.
While battery life is not critical for HBL, face-to-face classes will eventually resume, and your child may have to bring their laptop to school. Having to charge frequently in class can be a big hassle since most MOE classrooms lack sufficient accessible charging points. Polytechnic and university classrooms tend to be better equipped with power points but it can still be inconvenient to be tied to a power cord when moving around for group discussion.
Battery usage varies wildly depending on the apps used, screen brightness, peripherals, amongst other settings. In general, the advertised battery life is calculated under best case scenarios and 10 hours of advertised battery life is usually a safe estimate. Most people can comfortably go about 5 hours before needing to charge, and this can comfortably cover a short to medium day of school for most students without charging.
#5 Additional Monitor
In addition to a laptop, parents may want to consider adding on an external monitor for HBL. While children can’t bring an external monitor to school for Blended Learning, a second monitor can make things easier for HBL. Having one screen dedicated to the online lesson, with another screen dedicated to taking notes or working on the program can be more productive for students. A larger external monitor can also help students who are working on detailed high-resolution projects for students who intend to move into media and design or engineering.
To assuage the concerns of parents who worry about too much screen time being harmful to the young eyes. Lenovo monitors are built with the EyeSafe technology which filters the blue light rays. The EyeSafe technology filters the blue light filter while still retaining colour production, making it suitable for even the students working on digital art projects.
#6 Price And Future Proofing
A laptop is not an item that you want to purchase every year and you should choose a good laptop that can at least last your child a few years.
While a cheap laptop may work for the initial student years, it may require an upgrade later on as your child grows and starts using apps that require better specifications to run smoothly. Buying a higher-end laptop for a graduating junior college student may make more financial sense as the laptop will likely last for the duration of their polytechnic or university years.
On the flip side, even a top-end laptop has the potential to stop functioning. Ultimately, whichever laptop you choose, it’s important to consider if this is a price that your family can comfortably afford and the potential cost of replacement.
#7 After-Sales Support
After-sales and warranty support to tackle any potential faults and failures are important considerations for any laptop purchase. This is even more critical during periods of HBL (such as during Phase 2 Heightened Alert), where there may not be an IT-savvy person at home. Even if there is someone who is tech-savvy at home, good after-sales support can provide a peace of mind when an important technology device doesn’t work as it is supposed to.
To support a seamless HBL experience, parents can add on Lenovo’s Premier Support option during their laptop purchase. This Premier Support will give you access to technical support who is just one step away with expert troubleshooting, next-business-day repair service and prioritised parts access.
Customised Solution For Every Student Need
If you are planning to buy a laptop for your child’s HBL, you may wish to take a closer look at Lenovo Education Store. All the education models listed on the store are designed with student needs in mind. Additionally, all students can receive a 5% discount sitewide when they register for Lenovo Education Store Account.
For parents (and children) who prefer to physically choose their laptop, you can visit the Lenovo flagship store at Funan, #03-19 to 20 or at Bugis Junction, #03-26A, where you can receive in-store assistance.
For those who wish to customise their laptop, the ThinkPad P14s features a Build Your Own function which allows for you to customise the components you want. While the base model is more than sufficient to meet the above-recommended specifications for home-based learning, it can still be upgraded further to tailor the device to your needs.
The ThinkPad P14s is Lenovo’s smallest and lightest laptop that comes with professional mobile graphics card. Tipping the scales at 1.47 kg, it is light enough for even primary school children to carry while being powerful enough for graduating students who intend to carry it on to their polytechnic or university education. The 10th Gen Intel® Core™ processors and NVIDIA® Quadro® professional graphics provide more than sufficient processing power to handle the high-resolution files and images required of students majoring in areas such as architecture, design or engineering.
In the technology world we live in, buying a laptop for our child’s education should no longer be seen as a good-to-have item, but rather, a necessity that our child cannot do without for Home-Based Learning (HBL). So choose a suitable laptop (within your budget of course!) that is not only going to be serviceable for HBL, but would even allow your child to enjoy it.