Today the ubiquity of smartphones is an all-pervasive presence, with everyone from middle schoolers to high-tier executives and CEOs having a phone in their pocket. Phones are tremendously useful tools, with incredible potential for communication and organization, as well as the obvious advantages of having a wealth of knowledge accessible right at one’s fingertips.
However, with any new technology, no matter how beneficial, comes the potential for abuse. Video games, YouTube, and other multimedia commonly consumed on smartphones can become significant distractions especially for young students, while social media is known for its addictive characteristics, as well as being a breeding ground for cyberbullying and other socialization problems.
Given these pros and cons, a long-time question arises: Should schools ban mobile phones? Or should schools adapt to this emergent technology in ways that make use of their advantages, while mitigating the effects of abuse?
There’s no denying the potential for phones as an educational tool. One of the most important ways is actually reflective of the current educational milieu. Many major curricula such as the International Baccalaureate are moving away from rote memorization and textbook learning, to education that more involves analysis and critical thinking, because of the widespread availability of information at one’s fingertips. Smartphones enable access to encyclopedias, videos, and entire libraries of knowledge, right in one’s pocket.
Another advantage is the potential for collaborative learning, especially for group projects. Students are able to organize, share notes and information, and connect at a deeper level than ever before. The same collaborative and teleconferencing tools that businesses once could only dream of, are now available to every student thanks to their smartphone.
As mentioned above, smartphones absolutely can be a distraction. A recently released, and wildly popular video game has made it to the news as a significant distraction for smartphone-equipped students. Teachers would even catch students playing the game during class.
Another issue is social media addiction and cyberbullying. There have been many cases of this throughout the years as social media proliferated, though the problem is a very complex one and may point to a combination of technology and perhaps mental health awareness and upbringing.
Finally, when taking notes, students sometimes just capture photos of notes with their phones rather than writing them down or typing them up. Studies have shown that taking notes, especially handwritten ones, are vastly better for retention and understanding.
Should they be banned or embraced?
For all their advantages and disadvantages, there is no denying that smartphones are here to stay, and here to flourish. For many schools, therefore, the solution is to educate students on how to use this technology responsibly, rather than prohibit its use.
At Swiss International School Dubai, we welcome electronic devices in the context of a framework that promotes thoughtful and productive use. Students are allowed – but not required – to bring a phone to school and may use it only before arrival at school or after 15:35. Technology innovation is an important part of SISD’s educational ethos, and we’re not about to stifle that through prohibition. Indeed, our teachers have said, “It’s not as simple as banning or confiscating, although we might do that if we felt it appropriate. It’s more likely we would discuss with the child why they chose to use it and what the impact of that decision was.”
Of course, our policy comes with rules to prevent abuse. It’s on the teacher to identify if a student is being distracted or unproductive because of their mobile phone. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this brave new world of technology, just like education itself. We prefer a tailor-made approach that works on each individual student’s preferences and characteristics, so that everyone gets a chance to learn in a way that works for them.