It is virtually impossible to escape the cascading impact of technology on society. Its preponderance is felt worldwide, especially in the developing and developed world. However, one of the most important societal institutions that have come under its influence is the school. As a result, educators and parents across the globe are concerned about the best approach to manage this modern phenomenon.
In Barbados, with its mass educational system – that is a system catering to every citizen of school age – the challenge of the technological revolution is no greater than that facing the United Kingdom or the United States. Of particular note however, is the high standard of living experienced by Barbadians, thus the extremely high use of the cell phone among our population, especially the young. It is not unusual to find some teenagers with not one, but two cell phones.
One could, therefore, understand the tremendous pressure our schools’ administrators have come under in dealing with the influx of cell phones in the class room especially at the secondary level. This pressure, undoubtedly, reached the Minister of Education when in 2009 he declared a ban on cell phones in schools. The Minister’s position quite naturally sparked off public debate which saw parents and school personnel divided over the issue.
In preparing this article I decided to take a cursory glance at the internet and found that one of the burning concerns of parents was that of the safety of their children. In Barbados, the question of child/student safety was also voiced. Parents claim that if something went wrong with their children then the cell phone would be the easiest and most practical method of communication. But let us examine this question of safety a bit more.
Parents send their children to school with the high expectation that they will be cared for and be protected by the school system. Parents believe that when their children are put off at the school gate that their welfare is now solely in the hands of the school authority. Whenever an incident occurs involving their children they (the parents) hold the school responsible. This is what is termed in legal jargon as the teacher acting “in loco parentis.”
This legal tradition has been the guiding principle that has determined the relationship between teacher and pupil/student. Barrell, in his book, Teachers and The Law (1966:181-82) states rather clearly that the teacher is:
in loco parentis to the children in his charge, and that the law asks merely that he should act reasonably in this capacity. Provided that his actions are in accordance with the general and approved educational practice, and provided that he takes such care of his children as a careful father would take, he has little to fear from the mischances of school life.
With this obligation in mind our schools have in place systems where the names of children’s parents or guardians are documented, together with telephone (emergency) numbers and other information that makes it easy for the school to reach the parent, especially if the child suffers from a particular medical condition. If in the course of play a child hurts himself or herself then the guardian is immediately contacted and in severe cases the ambulance is requested. Schools are very prompt in following this procedure. Teachers generally ensure the safety of their pupils/students.
So conscious of the safety factor during the school day, schools now arrange teacher rosters to ensure that a teacher is often supervising during out-of-school activities. The question of parents being anxious over the safety of their children and therefore the need for a cell phone is in my opinion
What is of more import is the negative impact of cell phone use in the class room. Firstly, it can be used too easily to misinform parents of happenings within the school environment that can lead to recrimination between school and parent. Secondly, with the upsurge in drugs and gang warfare, the cell phones could easily be the connecting link for increased violence within the school. Thirdly, the cell phone can be a distraction in the class room for its discrete use by students in texting, e-mailing, voice noting etc, rather than concentrating on classroom activity.
Fourthly, is the pornographic garbage that seems to consume modern society. Pornography seems to capture the ‘mind and soul’ of an increasing portion of the society, both young and old. Since the cell phone is the greatest medium of this obscenity and since our young people are the most adept in finding these web sites then it is the responsibility of school administrations to protect their charges from this type of non-school unhealthy pastime. Such are the features of the cell phone that seem to resonate with the general public.
It is, therefore, important that the central educational administration seek as a matter of policy to save our future citizens from the negative aspects of the information technology revolution. The school remains the most important socializing institution within a democratic country such as Barbados. It has a responsibility to pass on to future generations its moral values, traditions and civic standards. It is critical, therefore, that the school environment is structured to enhance the potential abilities and character of our young people. It is within this context that I caution against the indiscriminate use of the cell phone within our schools.
It was a laudable achievement when in 1995 the government embarked on a comprehensive plan to introduce information technology throughout the educational system in Barbados. This innovation brought the computer within the reach of all Barbadian children. The programme has since been expanded and it was gratifying to hear the Minister of Education, the Hon. Ronald Jones, declare his support for such learning tools such as the use of laptops, computers, e-book solutions etc. Here is the positive use of technology within the classroom. However, I am still to hear of the educational value of the cell phone.
In light of the Ministry’s policy as contained in the Mobile Technologies Use Policy for Nursery, Primary and Secondary schools, my own view is that shared by experienced private school educator Mrs. Sybil Leacock of no cell phones in the class room. In fact, I know of another such private school where a similar policy exists. The core of any mobile policy should be that cell phone use should be banned during school hours. Since most public schools have large numbers there should be very stringent regulations that on entering the school compound all cell phones should remain in the students’ bags or office until dismissal in the afternoon. Failing to do so should incur equally harsh penalties. This approach would allow students to communicate with their guardians before and after school.
Excluded, however, from this policy would be sixth form students. Such students, should, at their ages be exhibiting a sense of responsibility and discipline that would allow less teacher supervision. In fact, sixth formers should be more oriented towards professional career paths than be concerned with unnecessary distractions.
Such a policy would remove the cell phone as a distraction within the class room and free teachers from directly administering such a policy. The teacher, today, is too overwhelmed with curricular activities and behavioral problems to now be concerned with indiscriminate cell