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Exploring today's technology for tomorrow's possibilities

How HP Refresh Can Help Close the Digital Divide

Dwight Pavlovic
As the role of information and communication technology in education grows so, too, does the importance of closing the digital divide. What does the “digital divide” mean? People living in rural areas often have varying levels of access to technology and high-speed internet, which makes distance learning a big challenge for isolated and underserved school districts in the United States.
The HP Refresh Program aims to empower communities by providing schools with the resources to equip every student with the tech they need. HP software helps organizers restore previously used PCs, providing a workaround that avoids dipping into already-strained school district budgets. Plus, this helps to reduce tech waste by keeping devices in good condition and in use.
While the ideal long-term fix is better broadband service for rural users, addressing inequity in technology device access is an important piece of the puzzle. Improving digital literacy means closing the technology divide and providing better education for the next generation as they prepare to enter the work force. This HP program aims to guarantee students have the best possible platform for their online access.

Understanding the impact of the digital divide

The digital divide in the U.S. impacts 15 to 16 million students who don’t have access to “internet or devices to sustain effective distance learning at home.” Nine million of those students lack not only adequate internet but devices as well. That burden falls most heavily on remote communities without rural broadband, and underfunded urban and suburban school districts.
Larry Irving, a former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and the originator of the term “digital divide,” experienced the phenomenon firsthand when he moved from Washington D.C. to rural Virginia. Instead of working from home, he set up at a local public library to use the WiFi. Speaking of his time as Assistant Secretary, he wrote:
“We did a series of studies that showed that if you were poor, if you were a minority, if you were elderly, and if you were rural, you were less likely to have access to the internet. Poverty was the constant.”
The problem is becoming more and more visible in the U.S., but it remains a global issue with broad implications. According to a 2020 United Nations statement, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, roughly one-third of young people can’t access the hardware and digital technologies necessary for remote learning.
The varying responses to the pandemic have only added urgency and complexity to the situation. Amina Fazlullah, digital equity counsel for the Common Sense Media nonprofit, described the mood of students, educators, and parents at the beginning of the 2020 school year:
“Students without high-quality connectivity and devices are facing an uphill battle in accessing educational resources and connecting with teachers. Everyone’s feeling trepidation about the new school year and what this model of learning will look like.”
The impact of the digital divide on the economy is also substantial, and it hits some harder than others. For example, some developing countries and rural communities are effectively cut off from the global digital economy. HP is targeting that need as part of our strategy to close this gap.

Get to know the HP Refresh Program

Part of HP’s larger Sustainable Impact initiatives, the HP Refresh Program is designed to put better equipment into the hands of students. By equipping teachers with reliable software and resources for handling refurbishment, the plan is to extend the lifespan of existing devices and provide the best possible experience for new users.
If you’re concerned about access to tech in your area, HP Refresh is a great way to work toward solving that problem. Especially for areas where other help isn’t forthcoming, HP Refresh is a blueprint for improving access for students with each new school year. Once groundwork is laid for a local collaboration or a school initiative, planning and organization become that much easier.

How HP Refresh works

The HP Refresh program consists of 4 key stages: Identify, organize and collect, refresh, and deliver. And by following these steps, you can raise awareness and gather tech for programs to potentially roll out in other towns and school districts. The program also works to empower schools and educators, who can then use this information to put together plans for fundraising and tech-related grants.
Let’s explore the 4 steps to a successful Refresh drive.


In the identify stage, you’re tasked with investigating area schools to find out more about their needs. Even if your local school district doesn’t have a glaring issue with access to technology, school resources vary widely. You may find different situations elsewhere in your town or county, and conditions may vary by neighborhood in denser municipalities.
If you already did some legwork and know that the technology divide in your area is pressing, focus your research on local school districts and move from there. Make some calls or speak to other parents if you can to gather more info.


Expand your reach by connecting with other stakeholders. Organize a survey through your partner district to line up potential volunteers and contributors. This expansion will help you set up more ways to get in touch with those who may want to donate hardware. It will also help you collect requests from those who need assistance.
Collecting hardware is the next hurdle, and it may be a big one depending on the scale of your Refresh drive and the nature of your community. Start off by learning more about the CDC’s social-distancing guidelines, then make plans for safely collecting and cleaning hardware.
You can see more information about tech eligibility and how to recycle non-functioning hardware on the HP Refresh page under Requirements and Recycling. You can also check out our cleaning guidelines. Plus, you’ll find useful email templates for contacting businesses, the press, and other local organizations under the Getting the Word Out heading.


Once the cleaning is done, it’s time to run HP’s Refresh software. How you incorporate this stage into your workflow is up to you. You could ask multiple volunteers to process devices as each is sanitized, or designate a technical person to process your collections gradually. If you have a lot of devices to handle, more help means faster turnover and a deeper knowledge base for the next drive.
Using the software and making final hardware checks is designed to be straightforward, but it is more technical than the organization or planning phases. It’s a major plus if you can work with someone familiar with personal computers or refurbished tech, so check with local businesses or school staff to see if you have any good candidates for fulfilling this part of the Refresh process. You can also contact a local college to see if they offer credit to computer or information technology students for volunteering internships.
Keep reading for more information and ideas, but here are some resources to help with installation once you’re ready to start:
  • Installation Guide - Explains how to handle the HP Refresh software
  • Video Installation Guide - Video guide to installing on older hardware
  • FAQ - Not strictly necessary for beginners, but you will find guidance for a variety of possible issues and contingencies
Click here to download the Refresh software and view all of the above resources in one place, as well as other useful links and support materials. You can also scroll down for more links and ways to get help starting a new program or troubleshooting a software hiccup.


The delivery stage is important to develop in collaboration with schools and the rest of your partners. Keep the pickup process as simple and convenient as possible for everyone involved. Chances are your partner school district can provide a safe way to arrange delivery, especially if other aspects of the program are already taking place on-site.

Community Activation Playbook

Once you commit and start planning, the Community Activation Playbook is one of your most detailed resources. You’ll find guidance on every stage of the process with lots of additional resources and specialized information for businesses, school administrators, and organizers.
You can even find further reading on data security with HP products, in case you’re concerned about the safety of hard drive and solid-state drive cleaning. Thanks to our built-in HP Secure Erase, for example, all data in the user space is completely and irretrievably erased to ensure the drive is ready for its new owner.

HP Refresh Support

When you can’t work something out on your own, the best place to go for technical support is the HP Refresh Support Forums. The support forums are part of HP’s 3,000,000+ member Support Community, which means it’s also a great place to look for an elusive hardware fix or related experiences.


Improving access to technology in rural areas and underserved school districts is the only way to close the digital divide. Better access to technology means better access to the digital economy, and more opportunities for those lacking high-speed internet and bigger school budgets. For communities and schools struggling to meet the tech demand, HP Refresh aims to be part of the solution.

About the Author

Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.

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