You could almost hear the collective cheer of students across the country as Minister of Education Ronald Jones announced last weekend that cell phones would be allowed at secondary schools when the new term opens in September.
This reversal of the 2009 ban on cell phones in schools is no surprise. Mr Jones has been hinting since 2015 that the policy was outdated and that technology should be embraced as learning tools.
In today’s modern Barbados, cell phones are simply a way of life and there is no going back.
Technology has revolutionized virtually everything we do, and it seems almost impractical, if not irrational, to keep cell phones away from the classroom, especially where there is the possibility that they could lead to a new and improved way of learning, using educational apps and other tools.
The point is that smart phones can easily be valuable learning tools. They are, in reality, mobile computers. So, rather than viewing them as a detriment or distraction, students can be taught to use them constructively – from note taking to conducting research.
The enthusiasm of Mr Jones and students is, however, not shared by the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), and understandably so, but surely there is room for all involved to find common ground.
BSTU President Mary Redman chided the Ministry of Education for failing to consult the union as she made it clear that teachers are not prepared to support cell phone use in school because of problems which currently exists.
Said Redman: “There is the issue of all of the fights that we see recorded and put on Facebook for posterity. We know how those cell phones can be abused. We also know of the problems that they cause in terms of theft in schools. It is a distraction and I do not know why the Minister [of Education] would be insisting on this.”
It would be foolhardy to dismiss the concerns raised by the veteran educator, because there can be no denying that for all their benefits, cell phones are not without negatives.
But first things first. If it is true that education authorities failed to engage the BSTU and its sister union, the Barbados Union of Teachers, on the new cell phone policy, then Mr Jones and his team erred. The introduction of any policy that would lead to fundamental changes in the classroom must include teachers.
That aside, it’s hard to miss one glaring point from Ms Redman’s statement – cell phones are already in schools without the ministry’s blessings.
True, it’s disappointing how some of our youth use technology, but should we let a few bad apples determine what could in fact benefit many children?
The question should be, how can we ensure children put this technology to wholesome use?
Our education system is geared towards producing well-rounded students who can make valuable contributions to society. Failure to embrace technology could result in us being left behind.
Instead of focusing on the negative and throwing our hands in the air, this is easily an opportunity for teachers, parents and other interests to focus on teaching children to use mobile technology responsibly.
Adults can begin by setting the right example. Even more so, teachers and parents have a duty to carefully assess the proposed Mobile Technologies Use Policy for Nursery, Primary and Secondary Schools in Barbados to ensure it is comprehensive, realistic and fair. This is best achieved through consultation involving teachers, parents, children and other interests to find a win-win policy for everyone to tap into the benefits of technology.