Finding common ground on cellular phones in schools

A confession of sorts yesterday from Minister of Education Ronald Jones, who is known for his off-the-cuff statements which humour or provoke depending on the listener, was a timely reminder of his ministry’s change of heart on the use of cellular phones and other technology in schools.

In just over five weeks, the new school year will open and, as promised by Jones back in March, the Mobile Technologies Use Policy for Nursery Primary and Secondary Schools in Barbados will be in place – allowing secondary school students to have cellular phones.

Yesterday, Jones virtually confirmed that there was no change in plan, as he admitted to the audience at the Caribbean Examination Council’s launch of its new mobile application CXC Connect that his ministry erred in imposing the ban in the first place.

“Really, it was a mistake I made in banning the use of technologies and now I have to fight against those who don’t want a reversal of that,” Jones said.

He then urged Barbadians “to break away from the fear of technology in schools and instead embrace it”.

This is likely to ruffle the feathers of naysayers who argue that cellular phones and other mobile technology are just another distraction and could possibly open the door for mischief of all kinds.

Indeed, the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) has already expressed its apprehension about the policy. President Mary Redman has warned that teachers were not prepared to embrace the move because of a number of worrying issues.

Said Redman: “There is the issue of all the fights that we see recorded and put on Facebook for posterity. We know how those cell phones can be abused. We also know of the problems that they cause in terms of theft in schools. It is a distraction and I do not know why the Minister [of Education] would be insisting on this.”

There can be no denying that the concerns raised by the educator and other opponents are valid – cellular phones of course come with challenges.

Yes, most have been disturbed by the graphic videos of fights and other illicit activities involving students, but weren’t these in the minority?

The fact is, whether we turned a blind eye or had a lapse of memory, mobile phones have been in schools over the last few years without permission.

Curiously, there were hardly loud protests from teachers, parents or other opponents when they were “illegal”, so why give Minister Jones flak now?

Like it or not, with the explosion of technology, particularly smart phones in our lives, it is illogical to keep them out of the classroom.

There is no going back on technology. Technology is a part of life, and its benefits are without question.

In the classroom, cellular phones should be used to make learning more fun and interesting with the use of educational apps and other tools.

Through their use, our children should be encouraged to not just merely exploit their benefits but perhaps seek to develop top-of-the line apps which they can market to the world and develop a whole new business sector for Barbados.

Equally, it must be acknowledged that children can easily veer off course and dabble in non-educational material on their smart phones. But no matter how smart, cellular phones do not lessen the authority of teachers.

Rather than taking hardline positions on either side, it would be wise to ensure that the Government’s policy adequately addresses relevant issues.

Frank, open consultations involving the Ministry of Education, unions, parent-teacher associations and other interest groups can easily come up with the best
way forward. .

This is a good opportunity to teach our children how to put technology to good use and ensure our education system remains relevant and competitive.

 No doubt with any initiative there will be teething pains. But we need not ban cellular phones outright or ignore technological progress to achieve this. We simply need to find the right way to use technology in the classroom.

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