Access to mobile technology can be both a blessing and a curse. Smart phones are used to make calls, run businesses and organise social lives. But they also raise concerns over their potential impact on our health, society – and education.
The UK’s culture secretary has suggested it would be a good idea for schools to ban mobile phones. Matt Hancock, who is in charge of digital policy, said: “I admire headteachers who do not allow mobiles to be used during the school day. I encourage more schools to follow their lead. The evidence is that banning phones in schools works.”
He went on:
Studies have shown mobile phones can have a real impact on working memory and fluid intelligence, even if the phone is on a table or in a bag.
As a teacher, I personally witnessed the impact that rapidly evolving mobile phones had in the classroom. A new behavioural issue fast became a key challenge – how to deal with yet another distraction.
However, those same phones also became a valuable resource for many innovative teachers. Here was an opportunity to develop innovative learning strategies using technology which provided students with access to a knowledge base far beyond the confines of the classroom.
Some teachers use interactive learning activities such as the game-based platform Kahoot!, which is free but is reliant on students being able to access mobile devices. Others may simply wish their students to use those devices for research when they do not have access to computing facilities. In these cases, it is reasonable for teachers to encourage their students to use their mobile phones.
But this innovative approach comes with complications. How can teachers be sure that students are using their phones for learning rather than accessing social media? Students themselves are then expected to justify the use of their mobile phone.
Teachers can find themselves under immense pressure. Technology has developed at a speed which is difficult to keep up with – and with each advancement comes an expectation for teachers to have either a solution or strategy. This, coupled with the pressure on teachers to keep order in class and achieve good grades can leave little time for new strategies to emerge.
In some respects the culture secretary’s suggestion to ban mobile phones in schools (as France has done) is understandable. The rationale, I suspect, is that by removing the catalyst for poor behaviour (the mobile phone) we remove the issue.
But this repsonse has flaws. To start with, we already expect a great deal from our teachers. Do we now believe they should undertake “stop-and-search” surveillance of students entering the school and classroom simply to remove a mobile phone?
Secondly, while the removal of the mobile phone may prevent the short-term issue, it does not prepare our next generation. Education providers are responsible for preparing students for the future. Acquisition of knowledge is not enough – we must ensure young people are ready for the next stage of their lives.
A smarter approach
Whether we embrace it or not, mobile technology is a fundamental part of the modern world. Today’s students will have jobs that rely on technology, and they need to be mature enough to use it wisely – and appropriately.
The solution is not prohibition, but education. This is not without its challenges – but if we are shaping the workforce of tomorrow then we have to consider how we prepare students to be part of it. Exam results are important, but so too are wider skills such as using technology appropriately and safely, and having the self-discipline to regulate the use of mobile technology – knowing the right time and place to fire up a smart phone.
As a student, I would want to be afforded the opportunity to retain my mobile phone – and be trusted to use it correctly. In return, I would expect to learn about appropriate mobile phone use with the guidance and support of my teachers.
As a parent, I would welcome another person taking the time to educate my child about the best way to of mobile phones. (That way I’m not the only person nagging: “You’re always on your phone…”)
And as a teacher, I appreciate the challenge that mobile phones bring to the classroom. But I also want to prepare my students for their next steps. The smart phone is not going anywhere – and has many educational features. It contains a writing tool, a calculator, and a huge encyclopedia – and I can’t imagine anyone calling for those to be banned at the school gates.