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Detailed Purchase Guide

Our Vision at AISB is for all students to achieve personal and academic excellence, in an innovative and supportive learning environment. To achieve this for our secondary school students, AISB is a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) school.

With their own laptop, student learning can happen anytime, anywhere. There are opportunities for choice in the timing, mode (offline and online, applications used), location and pathways for learning. Students will not need their laptop “every day, every lesson, all lesson”, as our curriculum is delivered using a wide range of resources and methodologies that are selected according to best practice. A laptop is one of several resources that students will need during a regular school day.

The recommendations outlined in this document are what we consider to be the minimum specifications student laptops need to operate efficiently and minimize disruptions to learning. Our experience suggests that if the laptop is more than 3 years old, the likelihood of experiencing problems is much higher.  

We request that each student be provided with a personal laptop - sharing among family members is not suitable. Tablets, smartphones, Chromebooks and netbooks are not alternatives, as these devices do not have all the necessary features needed to provide a productive learning environment.

Features the laptop should have

Screen size

To make sure that the laptop is able to be used efficiently and easily (and limit eye strain), the screen size should be no less than 13”. While larger screens are useful for increasing productivity, they will add to the overall size and weight of the laptop - an important consideration for younger or physically smaller students.

Wireless

For student laptops to be able to connect to the AISB network, and the Internet, the laptop must have wireless connectivity that supports the 802.11 specification. Additionally, it is best if the laptop has dual band support for  2.4GHz and 5GHz.

Operating System

The recommended operating systems are:

  • Windows: Windows 8.1 or Windows 10

  • Apple: macOS 10.12 (Sierra) or macOS 10.13 (High Sierra)

Older versions of these operating systems can be used, but are difficult to support and often have compatibility issues.

A Linux distribution is a possible alternative, but it is very difficult to support on our network.

Battery Life

For greatest efficiency, we recommend a minimum of 6 hours of battery life. There are some limited opportunities to charge laptops or connect them to mains electricity during the day at school. The amount of battery life achieved will depend on the number and type of applications (programs) that are being used, as well as any other peripheral laptops that are plugged in (external hard drives, large headphones).

Processor

Performance is going to be determined by the processor, which can be thought of as the “brain” of the laptop. So that your laptop can continue to handle future demands, we recommend purchasing the laptop with the best processor you can afford in order to future proof yourself. If you are continuing with an existing laptop, the recommended minimum processor is an Intel i5 or equivalent. If you are purchasing a new laptop for 2018-19, we recommend an Intel i5 or Intel i7 (or equivalent, such as an AMD Ryzen 5 or AMD Ryzen 7).

RAM

The RAM of your laptop is required for processing data. If there is not enough RAM, the laptop will operate slowly. We strongly recommend that the laptop have a minimum of 8Gb installed. Again, we recommend purchasing the laptop with the most RAM you can afford, to cater for future computing requirements.

Hard Drive and Storage

When you are investigating the options available for your laptop, there may be a choice between an SSD (solid state drive) or a HDD (hard disk drive, also referred to as a mechanical drive). SSDs are more expensive than HDDs, and will usually offer less space for storing files. The advantage that SSDs have, however, is that they have no moving parts - this means they are less likely to suffer damage due to being knocked or bumped, and will use less power which means the battery will last longer.

Assuming you purchase a laptop with an operating system already installed (such as Apple OSX or Windows), you will need to give some consideration to the amount of storage available for extra software and files. This will vary greatly from student to student, depending on what they install and the type and number of files they create. We recommend that laptops have a minimum of 100 GB of available storage.

Many of the documents that students create for school will be stored in their Google Drive, an online storage option. However, it is useful to also have a copy saved to their laptop.

Graphics / Display Adapter

The majority of the activities students will complete as part of their learning will not be dependent on a high-end graphics adapter (also referred to as the graphics card, or display adapter). It will become a something to think about, however, if they are likely to do video editing or gaming (the gaming would be in their own time, not at school!). If better quality graphics are likely to be needed, look for laptops that use a separate video card and not the RAM to process the display.

Language

It is possible have your operating system work in your preferred language. As our language of instruction for core subjects is English, we strongly recommend that you use English. Using an English-based operating system will also make it easier for us to offer some technical support.

Keyboard

Regional variations are possible for your keyboard layout. For example, a US keyboard has some keys in a different location when compared with a French keyboard, or use a different combination of modifier keys to type special symbols. The student will need to either have familiarity with the keyboard layout, or be willing to develop it, in order to be be as efficient as possible. Some consideration about which keyboard layout they are most likely to encounter outside of school (for example, after they graduate) is needed.  

Hardware and features

To be able to fully engage in 21st century learning, is important for student laptops to have a camera and a microphone.

We also ask that the laptop have:

  1. A display port (Apple Thunderbolt or DisplayPort; VGA for Windows laptops)

  2. At least two USB ports

  3. A headphone port

These ports are usually standard on a laptop, but it is worth checking to ensure that they are available.

Accessories

Required

A pair of headphones or earbuds are required. These are also listed on the general equipment list. A headset with a boom mic would be a good choice as well.

Very strongly recommended

  1. Protective case (such as a laptop bag) to transport the laptop. If purchasing a backpack, try to get one that is designed to project the laptop while being transported.

  2. Portable hard drive to backup your data, or archive files that are no longer required. Alternatively, you may choose to use an online storage solution to backup your files, but this will be severely hindered by the slower internet speeds available in Bamako.

  3. Spare power adapter. With the fluctuating power supply in Bamako, power adapters often fail. Purchasing replacements in Bamako can be difficult and expensive. Having a second power adapter will also allow for one to be kept at school and one at home.

Suggested

  1. Protective case or shell for the laptop and keyboard - this will help to protect the laptop from small bumps and knocks, and the keyboard from spills, food crumbs and dust.

  2. A way to personalize the laptop, and make it easier to identify. This could be a name tag on the case, or a set of decals or stickers.

Software

Where possible, AISB will make use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and online tools.

However, we do ask that you purchase and install the following:

Productivity

AISB is a G Suite for Education school, and makes extensive use of apps such as Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Classroom. These are online tools. For many families, home internet access that supports the use of Google apps consistently in Bamako can be difficult. Therefore, student laptops must  have access to productivity software will allow students the opportunity to complete tasks at home without the need for an internet connection.

Examples of productivity suites include:

  • Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) - this is our preferred solution

  • iWorks (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) - this is freely available for Apple devices

  • LibreOffice (Writer, Calc, Impress) - free suite available for both Mac and Windows; at present, it is difficult to provide support for this

Internet security

To protect your laptop and data, as well as AISB network resources, you are required to have internet security software installed regardless of your chosen operating system. This usually involves the purchase of an annual subscription.

Popular internet security software providers that support both Windows and Mac operating systems include:

  • Kaspersky

  • McAfee

  • Bitdefender

  • F-Secure

It is necessary to update the internet security regularly; most reputable providers do this automatically on a daily basis.

Other considerations

Some other things to think about when selecting a laptop for your student are listed below; these do not form part of the minimum requirements for your laptop.

    1. Warranty - many resellers will offer an extended warranty on your laptop. This is a family decision, but remember that the likelihood of being able to have your laptop repaired by an authorized repair agent in Bamako is very low. If warranty repairs are required, you will most likely need to ship the laptop out of Mali.

    2. Insurance - again, this is a family decision and will depend on the availability of suitable insurance cover Bamako. Families can often have laptops included as part of their household contents insurance policy. This will cover the laptop in the event of loss or non-warranty, accidental damage. It needs to be remembered that the laptop is owned by the family, and AISB is not able to provide repairs or replacements.

    3. Casing - is the case tough and sturdy? Can it survive the treatment that young people sometimes subject their laptop to? Is it possible to purchase an additional protective case? It is also worth checking to see if the keys, inputs and screen hinge are all sturdy.

    4. Weight - is the laptop light enough to be easily carried to and from school, and between classes?

    5. Optical drive - it is becoming common for laptops, particularly at lower price points, to not include an optical drive (also referred to as a DVD drive). Having an optical drive is not a requirement at AISB, but it is often useful to have one available. If an optical drive is not available with your chosen laptop, consider purchasing an external DVD drive.

    6. Life of the laptop - all laptops and hardware have a limited lifespan. The way the laptop is physically treated by the user, as well as the rapid changes in the demands of software, will affect how long it will last. Based on our observations, most laptops will last three to four years before requiring replacement. This assumes that a laptop with higher than the recommended specifications was purchased, and care is taken with the way it is physically handled.

    7. Other devices in the family home - what devices are already in the household? What software do you already own - some companies offer “packs” that allow you to install their software on more than one device (for example, Office 365 Home). If you are a “Mac Family”, for example, it would make most sense to equip your student with an Apple Macintosh laptop.

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Marcus Tanner,
May 1, 2018, 8:59 AM
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