Sunday, 30 December 2007

Electronic 'gadgets'in schools - the debate continues

A couple of days ago, the UK Childrens Minister, Kevin Brennan, raised the issue about the use of electronic 'gadgets' in school, and suggested that they should be kept out of the classroom. There are several issues here and no one would disagree that Game Boys, PSP's etc simply used for games are not necessary in the classroom although it could easily be argued that the brain training games on Nintendo etc are really beneficial and if every students did that for ten minutes at the start of every day it would really help them. As a Headteacher, I had no problem with students with game boys etc using them at break and lunchtimes - often in groups.

The same comment about 'gadgets' was extended to mobile phones. Talking about secondary age students, phones are as important a part of their social life as clothes (and possibly more important to some). They do not go anywhere without them and no matter what school policies are, they will have their phone somewhere. Trying to totally ban them is really making a rod for teachers back and not realistic in 2008. I have visited schools with airport style hand held detectors for use on anyone they thought might be hiding a phone - bonkers! Why would you? Equally I have visited a school where the Headteacher told me they had confiscated 730 in one term - not for being used but just for being present. Students were just keeping the SIM card and then getting a new phone - so a pointless exercise for all.

I know I have written on this before, but it is really about balance and schools having a policy about what is and is not acceptable and consistently sticking to it. Above all - it must make sense! How many schools have asked the students to decide the policy or have a strong voice in the decision?

In one of my schools the policy was simply they must never be seen during school hours unless given permission. Phones that rang in lessons or during breaks were instantly confiscated - no arguement. (This is even easier with the new confiscation powers that teachers gained in the UK this year.)

However, there is massive computing power in phones and other handheld devisces which should be utilised, including web browsing, camera, calculators et al. If students forgot their calculator, one of my maths teachers let students use the calculator on their phones, with permission. It didn't mean they started planning their social life in the middle of the lesson. Lessons were fast , slick and very good - they had no time to do anything other than maths. (There is an issue about quality of teaching here as well). We encouraged students to use the phone cameras for science experiments and on field trips and send the photos so they could be dropped into work.

Adminstratively they work as well - as a school we, on occasion, used to remind classes / students via text about important events or about homework, parents about parents evenings etc. When I had to close a school due to a burst water main or heavy snow, having almost every student able to phone their parents simultaneously saved many hours of phone calls etc.

There are downside issues to contend with, weak teachers can get taken advantage of, a few students do phone home fast especially if they get into trouble, but the pros outweigh the cons.

I would rather see a coherent balanced policy that makes sense to students, staff and parents rather than advice suggesting a blanket ban which makes zero sense to anyone as it is just not realistic in todays environment.

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