Right now, everyone accessing the news on their mobile phones is reading how various countries around the world, including of course the UK, are considering banning children from having mobile phones while in school. As usual with the way the media – and even the Guardian – represents the situation it’s easy to imagine that every classroom and lesson in the country is being continually disrupted by the use of mobile phones: this may indeed be the case in a few schools, but it’s certainly not for the vast majority of children who will become the losers if denied access to the digital world to support their learning in a positive way. Meanwhile, as might be expected, traditional, authoritarian teachers who need to feel in control of everything have been excitedly supporting the ban, while others have been giving a far more thoughtful and realistic perspective on the situation.
For some reason All Change Please! always feels uneasy when it’s announced that someone wants to ban something. There are some occasions when it might be desirable and sensible, but it’s usually a simplistic, seemingly easy ‘quick-fix’ solution to a far more complex problem that needs to be properly understood and resolved sensibly and sensitively. Banning something rarely makes the problem go away, and often builds up resentment. Indeed All Change Please! has never forgiven the politicians and the establishment for banning Pirate Radio back in 1967.
With a little help from the media, it’s easy to imagine the scene – a teacher is facing a class of 12-year olds struggling to teach the finer points of writing an essay about the characters in a Shakespearian play while having to deal with children using social media and taking and sharing pornographic photos at the same time. But perhaps they wouldn’t be doing so in the first place if the curriculum and method of delivery was more appropriate to their more immediate needs, interests and aspirations? Meanwhile if a teacher is not able to control the proper use of mobiles in the classroom, then maybe they shouldn’t be there in the first place?
And of course banning mobiles in schools isn’t going to instantly put a stop to cyber-bullying – it will just happen on the bus on the way home from school instead.
At this point, All Change Please! need do little more than refer the reader to two authors whose wise words appeared as if by magic on its mobile phone as it was drafting this post.
The first is a Tweet by Neil Gilbride:
And the second is a recent post on the excellent Mike Cameron’s Blog where he begins by pointing out the difficult logistics of actually enforcing a ban on bringing mobiles to school, and the alternative time-consuming task of counting them in at the start of each day and counting them out at the end while ensuring each child ends up with their own phone. He then goes on to remind us that when they first came out, calculators were hastily banned from school, but now they are seen as being essential. Somehow we’ve managed to teach children how to use them properly.
Some years ago, All Change Please! was involved in ‘e-scape’ – a University research project into ways of recording and assessing problem-solving coursework. The successful solution involved students using mobile devices to take photos of their on-going ideas as they developed, and recording revealing audio and video accounts of their own progress and intentions. The data files were invisibly uploaded into ‘the cloud’ and automatically organised and presented on a larger desktop screen which could be accessed anywhere, anytime. More recently All Change Please! has been working on an on-line ‘chat-bot’ style mobile-phone tutoring support system in which students are asked relevant questions about their projects that stimulate their own thinking. But not of course in schools where there is an outright ban on having a mobile phone.
In terms of a change in the way we live our lives the mobile smart phone represents a major shift and is making a potential impact as, if not even more, significant as the widespread introduction of the motor car over a hundred years ago. We need to be preparing children for their mobile digital futures, not by banning and ignoring it, but by ensuring they understand and can evaluate and control the content on offer. The reason they want to use their phones uncritically and all the time is that so far we have failed to do so.
And things are being made worse as a result of the move to an academic and high-level programming-based Computer Science GCSE instead of the more widely-based ICT, denying the majority of children (and girls in particular) access to a educational experience that they urgently need. Or as the ever-tenacious Tony from somewhere near Tenterden recently wrote:
“When it was first mandated in the curriculum, ICT was described as a ‘capability’ and was included as a component of design and technology. The over-riding purpose was to harness technological knowledge and skills to make meaningful change. It was about ‘agency’ in the modern world. Helping young people to understand how they could be in control and providing them with mediated, real world project experiences to explore this.
The critical aspect of all of this was ‘value’, why are you doing this, what is the purpose and most importantly consequences of the change you are exploring? The Establishment have no understanding, skill or experience of this themselves. Their refusal to imagine education beyond drill and kill fact-recall is why they allowed the computer science brigade to high-jack the area and take us back 40 years to testosterone-driven coded pointlessness. Makes me weep…
The real problem is that state schools are in meltdown, school senior managers are a disgrace, teachers are little more than worksheet delivery agents rather than learning choreographers, and everyone at the DF-ingE needs to be transferred permanently to Love Island.”
Meanwhile as well as making a proper investment in the classroom workforce, a great deal more time, effort and money needs to be put into the design of digital content that genuinely enhances the education process. The latest games and commercial digital products are highly sophisticated in the way they engage, stimulate and reward the user, but these techniques have yet to be properly applied to the pedagogy of curriculum-based teaching and learning.
Meanwhile a recent survey from @TeacherTapp has suggested that around a quarter of schools already spend time collecting in mobile phones each day, and in more than two-thirds of schools children do not have access to mobiles during the school day, even under the guidance of a teacher. Use of phones are allowed at break and lunchtimes and/or under teacher direction in only around quarter of schools. If the survey is correct, it seems like the media-storm is a bit late, as most schools have banned mobiles already.
Some children may well be misusing mobile phones in their lives, but banning them from our schools is not going to make them go away: as educationalists we need to help them learn how to use them sensibly and appropriately.
So All Change Please! says… Let’s ban schools instead…
Always one to support a knowledge-rich blog post and having not been taught it at school, All Change Please! was curious to discover the origin of the phrase ‘Jumping on the bandwagon’, and reaching for its mobile phone it was rapidly able to discover that the original bandwagons were a popular and attention-grabbing part of circus parades in the US in the mid-1800s. Towards the end of the century politicians saw their potential and began using them for launching political campaigns, where they were joined by supporters who wished to be associated with them. And they often warned their audience against jumping on the opponent’s bandwagon in haste.
The photo above shows a typical circus bandwagon in use in the 2009 Great Circus parade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Image credit: Wikimedia commons)