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Geoff Ashton

Blogs by Geoff Ashton
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7 minutes reading time (1421 words)

Should kids be allowed mobile phones in schools? 


Wow! That's a very big question relating to a very contentious issue, certainly for us teachers, but also, arguably for parents too. It's also somewhat topical, as I'm sure, like me, you've been unable to escape the 'Momo' hoax that has been doing the rounds over the past couple of weeks.

 I don't know about where you live, but round our area, local schools have even been sending letters out to parents warning them of this horrific so-called game that our youngsters are apparently being coerced into playing. Of course, since then, it has been proven to be a total work of fiction! However, it evokes many questions, including the wider question of whether kids should be allowed mobile phones, particularly in schools.

 This is a topic I am somewhat on the fence about (surprisingly!). As a teacher, you would think I would advocate a ban on all mobile phones in all places of education; what with their constant distractions during my lessons and the endless 'tellings off' (terrible turn of phrase, I apologise!).

 I have to deal with pupils who should know better than to Snapchat during a vital part of their GCSE timetable! Indeed, throughout my teaching career so far, I have lost count of the amount of mobile phones I've had to confiscate because they were interrupting and disrupting my very vital and important lessons (after all, English is one of the key subjects our youngsters need to be qualified in, in order to give them the best possible life chances and open as many doors as possible for them in the future).

 The schools and educational institutions I have worked in have all had different policies. Most secondary schools, in my experience, have a 'confiscation' policy if a mobile phone is seen during a lesson; some advocating a full day confiscation where the parents need to come to the school office at the end of the day and collect the phone personally, others simply confiscating the phone for the remainder of the lesson and returning it to the student when the bell goes to signal the end of lesson time.

 In all honesty, I can see the benefits as well as pitfalls to both. As a parent now (although my 10 month old is way off owning a mobile phone!) I can understand the annoyance at having to trek all the way to your child's high school at the end of a long day in order to pick up their phone that they were silly enough to get confiscated in the first place. But as a teacher, I do see this as a valid punishment for breaking those all-important school rules.

A Failed Solution? 

 Recently, the college I teach in introduced a 'mobile phone drop box system'. Teaching at post 16, I have definitely encountered more issues in the classroom with unauthorised mobile phone use than I have previously. The college-wide policy is very clearly laid out for our students; they are told they cannot use a mobile phone during a lesson unless instructed to do so by their tutor.

 However, given that the students are older, and they are also clearly feeling the excitement of more freedom now they've left high school, they often flout this rule and use their mobile phones to text, Snapchat, Instagram and even take calls (!!!) during lesson times. In my classroom, certainly, as I know will be the case in many other teachers' classrooms too, this is absolutely unacceptable.

 I operate a warning rule – if I catch a student using their phone inappropriately, I warn them that if I see it again during the lesson, I will confiscate it until the lesson finishes. More often than not, this suffices, and I don't have to take any further action. Occasionally, I will need to confiscate the phone until the end of the lesson, but this is rare. Nevertheless, I think the college principalship recognised that this type of thing could become a wider and greater issue if it wasn't tackled head on straight away, somewhat nipping it in the bud.

 So the mobile phone drop boxes were introduced! The idea being that students would turn their mobile phones off upon entering a classroom and drop them in a lockable box on the wall by the door. The aim of this was to ensure that no student was distracted during lesson time, and I totally understood the thought process behind it. Surely, if no student has access to a mobile phone, they've got no opportunity for technology to distract them, and therefore they will concentrate and work harder?! As I'm sure you can imagine, this was met with great disdain by our teenagers and refusal from even the most conscientious students! Needless to say, the drop boxes are no longer being used, although I did understand and appreciate the idea behind them at the time.

Are phones a force for good, after all?

 The thing is, mobile phones and the use of technology in general can be a really positive thing in education. I enjoy utilising websites such as Kahoot! to consolidate knowledge in a fun way, during some of my lessons. I'll be the first to admit, English can be quite a dry subject at times, and anything I can utilise as a teacher to make things a little more interesting and exciting, I jump at the opportunity of using Kahoot! lets you build quizzes for free, and students 'log in' to your quiz using a web link. The quiz is then real-time and interactive, with a leaderboard appearing at the end of the quiz showing who answered the most questions correctly. It encourages competition between my students and even the 18 year olds I teach get excited when they come into the classroom and see the Kahoot! website up on the interactive whiteboard! (By the way, I promise I am not being paid by Kahoot! to write this! It's not a sponsored post!!)

Some other benefits...

 There are so many other tools that can be used in the classroom when it comes to technology and they definitely benefit students. It can become really costly if you're trying to kit out every classroom with tablet devices such as iPads for interactive learning, particularly when the majority of your students already have a smart-phone in their pockets. In this way, it can definitely be argued that mobile phones should be allowed in schools.

 The dark side of tech!

 On that topic, however, mobile phones can definitely be a root cause of bullying issues, particularly in schools. Arguably, nowadays, the phone to own is an iPhone, and if children have a different phone, other children can be very cruel. If we, as teachers, are encouraging our pupils to use their phones in an interactive way during lessons, we may be opening them up to unnecessary taunting.

 Surely, if mobile phones were banned from all schools, this wouldn't happen? Like I said earlier, I am definitely on the fence on this one.

No clear solution

 On the other hand, again, thinking as a parent (albeit a relatively new one!) I can't imagine sending my future 11 year old off to high school, out into the big wide world, getting the bus on his own and having all of these new (and often frightening) experiences without a way to contact me or phone for help. If mobile phones were banned in schools, this could be the case – how would our children contact us in an emergency? I know I had a mobile phone when I started high school (it most certainly wasn't a smartphone, though, they didn't exist back then!) There were times when my bus didn't show up, or I missed my bus and got stuck in the town my high school was in, and I had to ring my mum for help as I had no other way of getting home. I'm not sure what I'd have done without a mobile phone then.

 Anyway, to sum up, there are definitely many benefits as well as many pitfalls to mobile phones in schools. I don't think it will ever be an argument where one side wins outright over the other, to be honest. There are many elements that need to be considered, and it's definitely not an issue that will be going away anytime soon, especially with the use of technology being on the rise.

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