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Mobile Phones in Schools

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Mobile phones - the scourge of the school room. The dastardly object that every teacher is forever on the lookout for. Tell-tale signs of surreptitious usage are down turned eyes, observing an object below the desk. Pupils may be unresponsive, and even unaware of the teacher`s approach, oblivious until the nefarious object is snatched from their hands.

Mobile phones can be a distraction for everyone, adults and children alike - in the classroom though, they are the adversary every teacher must battle with. It is an unfair fight from the outset - whatever their credentials or charismatic rapport with their class, what teacher can compete with all the movie actors, celebrities, or sports persons, ready to magically appear under the desk at the touch of a button?

Of course they are more than just objects obstructing learning in the classroom - these are `smart` phones after all! Children also use these devices for cyberbullying. The amazing versatility of the devices mean they can be used by bullies to seek out victims, wherever they may be. Long gone are the days when the class tyrant would have to be proximal to his or her victims now the fist of this oppressor can reach out to its prey wherever they may be. Using social media the campaign of terror and humiliation can continue long after school has finished; and even if the targets are in the seeming safety of their homes, they can continue to be bullied, through mocking Facebook posts, or degrading Instagram photographs.

What then is the solution? Should all phones simply be banned from school grounds? How indeed would this be possible? Would each child be required to hand in their phone at start of the day? Every home is full of old handsets, so a cunning child could easily present a device that is not theirs, while secretly retaining their own phone. Some schools have intimated that they may install devices that will block the 4g signal, which would effectively prevent mobile phones from making or receiving calls, as well as stopping them from accessing the internet except through local wifi networks. This may well sound like an easy solution to unwanted phone usage at school, but unfortunately a prior case has shown that it is in fact illegal to use these signal blockers, as Julia Polley, the head at Wensleydale School and Sixth Form College discovered when she installed one. Exasperated by students` consistent use of mobiles in class Ms Polley informed parents of the pupils about her plans to install the phone jammer. She was soon told by both Ofcom and North Yorkshire County Council`s IT that she would be committing a criminal offence by installing the jamming equipment at the school. It is actually a criminal act under the Wireless Telegraphy Act to set up any kind of technical apparatus with the specific intention of disrupting radio communications. An Ofcom spokesperson said that:

`We sympathise with schools` concerns about mobile phones in the classroom. Unfortunately signal blockers can harm other peoples` mobile reception, as well as interfering with the emergency services and air traffic control.`

Confiscating mobile phones is also not a simple and straightforward option, as many now claim that possessing a phone is a fundamental human right, and taking someone`s phone would thus contravene this right. Despite this clear dictum many schools have the policy of confiscating phones from pupils who are caught using them in class, and holding onto them till the end of the school day; but with classrooms of maybe thirty pupils, it can be time consuming to stop a lesson, take a student`s phone from them, and two minutes later be compelled to repeat the procedure with another recalcitrant pupil.

Across the pond things have been, until recently anyway, little different - New York has had a total ban of mobile phones in all of its schools for the past ten years. This ban, which affects 1.1 million students, was lifted in 2015. `Lifting the cell phone ban is about common sense, while ensuring student safety as well as high-level learning in our classrooms,` said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fari a. The last point is perhaps pertinent here - mobile phones don`t necessarily have to be a disruptive force in the classroom, distracting students and impeding education. Professor Paul Howard-Jones, a neurologist from Bristol University has said that technology, including mobile phones, has been `demonised,` and that banning phones in schools would be `moving in the wrong direction.` His research has suggested that computer games, and other forms of electronic interaction can actually accelerate pupils` learning.

`We have to accept that technology is part of children`s lives. It isn`t about restricting it but about how they should be using it in a healthy way. Video games are powerful things for engaging children. Still, computers need to be turned off in the evening because they could be affecting the sleep, but if they are using games to learn that can be a positive thing.`

Technology can both help and hinder - this much is obvious. If used sagely and efficiently, the internet is a wonderful resource. It offers a wealth of knowledge and information - a mass of data that makes the largest library shrink to a one sided minuscule pamphlet in comparison. Mobile phones are a portal to this repository of learning - but if pupils are using them merely for browsing social media sites when they should be learning in the classroom, they will be missing out on their education; and unlike web pages, there is no `back` or `refresh` button they can press to revisit the lessons they have missed.

18 months ago
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