Banning Mobile Phones Makes Less Sense Than Ever

Banning Mobile Phones Makes Less Sense Than Ever

by Andrew Douch

In many schools I visit, mobile phones are still disallowed, or more often, can be carried to school but must be stored in lockers or switched off in class. This seems especially the case in Primary Schools, but is also true in many Secondary Schools.

I think, this is simply because many schools haven’t revised their mobile phone policy in recent months. In the olden days (say, 2009) There was an argument to be made, that mobile phones in the classroom would be a disruption because students might not be discerning in their use (especially in regard to text messaging). Easier, than to educate students about courteous phone use, was to simply ban them. Problem solved! For the record, I never agreed with that line of thinking – but I can understand why so many schools have taken that approach.

It gets a little silly though, when a school with a “no phone policy” implements an “iPad program” – and that is happening more often than you might imagine! The iPad now (since October 2011) ships with iMessage, an app that allows free, unlimited text messaging between iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, iPod Touch) and Macs with iMessage installed. (As an aside, iMessage is currently an optional download for Macs, but the next version of OS X – Mountain Lion – will similarly ship with iMessage pre-installed).

As with all Apple-installed iOS apps (Calendar, Mail, Settings, Safari, etc) the iMessage app can’t be deleted from the iPad even if you want to! (see image above).

This time last year, it was possible to stop students texting in class by simply prohibiting mobile phones. Now to achieve the same outcome we would need to extend the ban to cover iPads and in the foreseeable future, laptops too. It’s time to take the only reasonable course of action (which was always the most prudent course of action): to re-write our policies to welcome all devices, and do the hard work of teaching our students to use them judiciously.

The opening address from Norm Fuller, the President of the QSPA (Queensland Secondary Principal’s Association), At last month’s QSPA annual conference, centred around his forecast that “The future of education is ‘Mobile’”. If that is true – and I don’t doubt it is – then banning tablets in school is borderline negligent. But if we embrace tablets, it makes little sense to ban phones.

A school’s principal said to me:

“Mobile phones are banned at our school and so long as I am Principal they will stay banned. Here’s why: lately we’ve been having a real problem with year 9s using their phone camera to take photos up girls’ skirts and sharing the pictures around!”

I do understand her righteous indignation.  But I also think her strike is misdirected.

My response is twofold:

Firstly, prohibition is evidently not working because the violation of girls’ honour that she described has been going on despite the school’s mobile moratorium!

Secondly, but much more importantly, the real issue this school faces is not really a mobile phone issue at all. Banning phones doesn’t address the real issue – that students in her school apparently have a flagrant lack of respect for others’ dignity!  Addressing that issue, however, is complex and difficult.  It’s far simpler to make a scapegoat of mobile phones. Blame the phones; ban the phones; enforce the ban. Problem solved. (But is it, really?)

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