With recent legislation and increasingly disrupted supply chains, higher education can benefit from the Right to Repair movement.

Repairing products without replacing them is legal under both fair use and copyright law, but manufacturers have often restricted consumer access to materials needed for repair. In the wake of the pandemic, this has created a number of difficulties for consumers. The introduction of recent legislation, however, has made self-repair more feasible than ever before. Let’s examine the so-called Right to Repair movement in schools and how higher education — and the planet — can benefit from getting more life out of existing technology.

Right to repair policy objectives

A crucial component of sustainability begins with our ability to reuse and repair. As we have previously noted, if more devices stay in use longer, fewer will need to be diverted to electronic recycling. Planned obsolescence is now a major problem facing consumers. Companies design technology to become obsolete over time, which creates further e waste as the old technology begins to pile up.

To combat planned obsolescence, Right to Repair legislation must provide clear guidelines for companies to meet. The Repair Association has written a few of these key policy objectives:

  1. The device ought to be designed in such a way that allows for repairs to be made.
  2. There ought to be access at fair market prices to original spare parts and tools (software and hardware) for independent repair providers and consumers. 
  3. Devices ought to be designed to make repairs possible and not hinder them.
  4. A device’s repairability ought to be communicated clearly by the manufacturer. 

Increased legislation

The Right to Repair movement is one component of a larger global effort toward sustainability. As consumers become more educated on how Right to Repair benefits both their wallets and sustainability practices, legislation continues to gain traction — especially in the United States.

Right to Repair has achieved several key wins in the U.S., beginning in 2013. Massachusetts became the first state to pass a law requiring vehicle manufacturers to make their proprietary software and diagnostic tools available for sale to independent repair shops and consumers. 

The success continued last year when President Biden signed an executive order encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to make third-party product repair easier. By implementing these regulations, the FTC can now prohibit manufacturers from holding independent repair shops to difficult and restricted standards. 

This all set the table for the Fair Repair Act of 2022. Introduced by a bipartisan group of senators, this bill would ensure that OEMs “make available… to independent repair providers and owners of such equipment on fair and reasonable terms, documentation, parts, and tools, inclusive of any updates.” If passed, this bill will expand the Right to Repair movement to every sector of society, starting with schools.

Right to Repair movement in schools

In the past decade, computers have become an essential learning tool in every level of education. A research article recently published in Heliyon found that the most important driver positively affecting academic achievement of high school students is computer use. But despite their importance, affordable and available computers have proven difficult for some students to obtain.

The pandemic has only exacerbated these issues. As the 2020 school year began, U.S. school districts faced laptop shortages due to supply chain issues. Two years later, these shortages aren’t ending any time soon. This has had an enormous impact on all students, but particularly those who live in rural areas and communities of color, where students already suffer from a lack of high-speed internet access. There is good news, however. Schools can meet their laptop needs by refurbishing usable computers and increase their educational offerings at the same time.

Who benefits from the right to repair movement in schools?

There are two main groups of beneficiaries from the Right to Repair movement in schools. The first are the general population of students who do not own laptops. There are many usable computers sitting in corporate overstock or empty offices, but manufacturers restrict access to materials. With successful legislation, these computers could be repaired and reused by students who do not have other technology options. For this group, Right to Repair would significantly enhance their educational opportunities.

The second group of beneficiaries are the individuals repairing this outdated technology — students themselves. If schools encourage students to repair their fellow classmates’ computers, they will gain valuable trade skills in the field of information technology. With workforce growth rates for IT expected to double those of other industries in the next decade, this is especially important. For this group, Right to Repair would create education offerings and a new generation of IT professionals.

Add it all up and the Right to Repair movement doesn’t just benefit today’s consumers, it also benefits our children, as well as the planet.

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