Should kids use their smart phones in schools? This question divides not only teachers and pupils but also educators and parents outside schools. Those in favour of free or politely restricted use of these gadgets argue that technology is part of youngsters’ lives and learning and they should therefore be allowed to have them in schools. Those who would like ban or heavily restrict smart phones in schools say that malpractices, such as cyber-bullying, multi-tasking during lessons, and posting sensitive material about students and teachers in school online, would be easier to remove if schools were smart phone free zones.
Recently I got a mail from a Scottish newspaper that had published the following story about this issue: Time to Ban Phones in School: Cross-party MSPs call for Holyrood investigation, on Sunday 11 February, asking my opinion of this issue. Whenever I can and feel I have something to say, I work with media everywhere. I sent the following written response to the writer as my reaction to their article:
“This (considering restrictions or ban smartphone use in school) is indeed a global phenomenon. Most recently I think it was France that issued one in its schools (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/11/france-to-ban-mobile-phones-in-schools-from-september). In Finland the authorities announced that such ban in Finnish schools would be violation of citizen’s freedom of speech. This means that each district or school should have their own rules regarding this. Many schools that I visit have banned phones during lessons. Many teachers are upset that they have to serve as ‘police officers’ hunting down misusers and those who violate in-school or classroom-based rules. I was in Iceland last week and visited number of schools. Most if not all of them had a rule that kids must not bring their phones to classrooms or that they must be kept in their bags at all times.
I understand the concerns that come from extreme ethical violations like posting explicit materials from schools or classrooms in social media or possess them for private use. That is indeed a serious issue that must be tackled before it gets worse. I am also personally worried about the disturbing aspect of having smartphones present when we are about the get something done. I have heard hundreds of stories from teachers here and abroad how having your smartphone in your pocket and sensing the incoming messages vibrating destructs students’ attention from learning. Probably the best ongoing research-based effort to understand this better is Alberta’s Growing Up Digital initiative that is a joint project of Alberta Teachers Association and Harvard Medical School.
This all said, I think on one hand clear ban in primary and middle schools would be the easiest for everyone, especially for the kids and the teachers. Educationally better way would be, however, an active approach to teach children the ‘goods and bads’ of smartphones and help each one to self-regulate and control what to do with their phones. Heavy use of digital technologies that often manifests itself as addiction is equally harmful out-of-school. Therefore, it is important we teach children healthy ways to grow up with digital world. Either way, something must be done to that now.”
The follow-up story with my ‘interview’ in it was published on Sunday, 26th February, titled: “Sturgeon Education Guru Backs School Mobile Phone Ban”. I am posting this commentary of these stories to do away the impression that I would support simple ban of mobile phones in schools. First, this is not what I said, see above. Second, my opinion was clearly about primary and middle schools, not schools in general.
May the debate go on – this is an important theme.