Monday, 27 April 2009

Mobile phones in the classroom? You've got to be joking!

You’re probably not aware of this but as long ago as 2001 the government issued a circular to all schools (not parents!) in England discouraging “non-essential” use of mobile phones among students under the age of 15. It was feared that children could get all kinds of cancers, brain diseases and other horrible, health problems.

If you live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, you can use your mobile as much as you like. You're immune, apparently!

This came from the Stewart Inquiry which the government hoped would set guidelines on a minimum age for mobile phone users, but didn't.

It seems that schools have been banning mobiles for years and now primary schools are starting to ban them, too. According to a recent survey, the average age at which a child gets a mobile phone is 8. I didn't even possess a pair of long trousers when I was 8.

In the course of my research on this I found lots of differing views.

Fiona Philips, she of GMTV fame and PETA’s "sexiest female vegetarian 2007" (could you name another? No, nor could I!), ranted in her Daily Mirror column last summer “mobile phones in the classroom, you’ve got to be joking” whereas Doug Belshaw, a very well respected teacher (what would he know?), blogged 20 ideas to get students to use their mobiles as learning tools in 2006.

Who would you side with? Yeah, me too!

The irony is, his school had also banned the use of mobiles!

It's amazing to think that in the pocket of almost every secondary school pupil is a piece of technology which has so much educational potential, but which many schools have outlawed.

I can understand why. A phone is an expensive piece of kit and schools do not want to be responsible for any loss or damage to them. Twenty years ago, TV companies would have killed to get video equipment as good as the average 12 year old now carries around in his bag.

Also, there can be lots of mayhem caused with a camera phone and some naughty children. But couldn't those same children cause just as much mayhem with a pencil, a schoolbag, or a plastic spoon.

Last term, I wanted to get some students to film each other with their phones, and use the footage to discuss with their peers ways to improve their pronunciation in French.

Sorry, not allowed.

So, how do you get around this? You can borrow a couple of digital cameras (booking them a week in advance), sign them out, charge the batteries (and learn how to insert them correctly), be trained how to use them, and then train the students how to use them, and sign them back in again. Something which should take 10 minutes to film becomes a 2 hour nightmare, so you just forget about the whole project.

Last year, I broke the rules. I sent some GCSE speaking and listening revision files to some of my Year 11 students' phones by bluetooth. They used them to revise and they achieved excellent results.

Was it really such a bad thing?

Well, yes, it was. I'm thoroughly ashamed of myself.

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