A version of this article was originally published on the Open University News website on the 25th July 2018.
There is a lot of hype around the problems caused by mobile phones in schools. Matt Hancock, the Culture Secretary admires head teachers who ban the use of mobile phones (see source) and the chief Ofsted inspector is reported as thinking that the place of mobile phones in classrooms is dubious at best (see source). However, I believe that they are making a number of errors in challenging the use of mobile phones in schools.
- Mobile phones are NOT just (or even primarily) phones. They are dictionaries, thesauri, atlases, encyclopaedias, reference books, novels, magazines, scientific instruments (e.g. light or sound metres), diaries, notebooks, drawing tools, musical instruments, and a vast range of other things which (I sincerely hope) we would not dream of banning from schools.
- Most schools cannot afford all of the technology that they need. It seems crazy to ban the use of the computers that children have in their pockets – bearing in mind that today’s mobile phones are considerably more powerful than computers were only a few years ago.
- Banning them will not stop them being used – it will simply push that use underground. Much better for the device to be visible on the desk than hidden under it.
- Schools (should) have a duty to prepare young people to live in the world outside school. Mobile phones are an integral part of life outside school and schools should be helping young people make appropriate and effective use of them.
- We know that learning only happens when the learner is interested in or at the very least sees the relevance of whatever they are meant to be learning. Neuroscientist Mary Immordino-Yang states that “It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about” (see source)). If we genuinely want students to learn in school then we need to connect with the things they think are important – and mobile phones certainly fit that bill!
Obviously, I am not advocating a free for all with mobile phones being used in ways that undermine effective learning. Clearly, therefore, their introduction needs to be carefully prepared for and aligned with our appropriate educational aims. Of course that is more difficult than simply banning them, but it is also the right thing to do educationally.