Should mobile phones be banned at school?
The parent of a Year 8 student recently asked me if I thought schools should ban mobile phones. It’s an interesting question, and one that provokes a variety of responses from different groups of people.
I spend a fair amount of time in schools as an eLiteracy Consultant, and hear teachers speak about the battle to keep students on task and focused. And this is without having to compete with mobile phones. It seems these days pocket texting is the new ‘note passing’ and students have become adept at sending each other text messages without necessarily taking their phones out of their pockets.
Given the proliferation of smart phones, it is not uncommon for students to be online and bypassing school imposed restrictions to social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube. I regularly see kids surfing the net between classes and during breaks, though anecdotally they are less obvious about it during class. And as with instant internet access, most phones come with a reasonable quality camera as part of the standard features. This means that kids can photograph each other and post it online in less than the time it takes to get from one class to another.
Concerning? Yes, but I don’t think banning them completely is the answer. Apart from being almost impossible to police due to the ethical issues of performing pat-downs and bag-searches, the time involved in such an exercise would be prohibitive to teachers. And besides, banning something to such an extent makes it far more attractive to a significant minority and can become quite counter-productive.
So what is the answer? Perhaps one way is to embrace student enthusiasm for smart phone technology and create lessons that engage students in multi-media, multi-modal experiences. This could work on a few levels; all phones have calculators and these could easily be used in maths classes as a substitute for the traditional calculator, dictionary apps are common and could be downloaded free onto smartphones, cameras could be used in creating newsletters and/or photography collages.
One innovative English teacher has her year nine students text in their thoughts on aspects of Romeo and Juliet and displays them scrolling across the screen from a data projector, like they do with news headlines on breakfast television. She says the kids love it and try to guess whose analysis is whose. The anonymity gives a voice to those students who otherwise don’t speak out in class.
Of course a teacher would have to assess the capacity of their class to engage in lessons of this sort with a degree of responsibility, but putting to productive use technology that is second nature to kids may very well alleviate some of the stresses involved in upholding a ban. And more importantly, it gives kids a controlled and guided context within which to learn that there is more to a smartphone than downloading games apps or videoing fights after school.
What do you think?