Cellphone ban in schools - the right move?

Read time 3min 00sec

The National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) wants to see cellphones outlawed in South African schools, but some suggest a cellphone veto would be ineffective and even harmful to children.

NASGB general secretary Matakanye Matakanye says the association is taking steps that will hopefully result in a complete ban of cellphones in schools. He says the devices are detracting from what should be the core business of a school - the classroom.

“Cellphones are creating distractions for children in the classroom. The development of social media platforms like Facebook, BlackBerry Messenger and WhatsApp are taking the children's attention away from their teachers. Music and undesirable material on cellphones are other issues that are causing the learning environment to break down.”

Matakanye says the NASGB is petitioning all school governing bodies to formulate a policy that bans cellphones from entering school premises.

On the upside

However, the Governing Body Foundation (GBF) believes that a blanket ban on cellphones in schools could be counter-productive. GBF CEO Tim Gordon says a total ban on cellphones would “just drive [cellphone use in schools] underground” - actually reducing the amount of control authorities have on school children.

“A blanket ban also overlooks the fact that there is a huge difference in, for example, a Grade Two child and a Grade 11 child using a cellphone.”

Gordon says that, while the foundation is in no way downplaying the fact that there are negative factors relating to children and cellphones, society should be broad-minded enough to see the positives too. He cites the use of cellphones for communication and safety, as well as the advancement of technological literacy as some of the advantages of cellphone use in schools.

Education malfunction

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says there is also a bigger issue at play in this debate - that of adequate access to education.

“The cellphone is the one form of technology that is available to almost anyone in a country where 'official' access to educational materials has been hampered by inefficiency, corruption and continual bungling by educational authorities. One of the prime motivations for banning cellphones is that children are using them to access social networks instead of focusing on school work. It appears no effort has been made whatsoever to investigate the use of cellphones as both a teaching and learning tool.”

Goldstuck says, rather than ban the devices, they should be roped in to the broader goal of education for all, access to educational material for all, and improving teaching standards. However, he says the efficiency and competency in South African education is lacking.

“The very fact that one of the justifications for banning phones is the difficulty of managing them is deeply revealing. It shows that the management of education is in disarray. As a result, the response to a disruptive influence is to ban it rather than manage it.

“Banning cellphones would be an admission of failure of both management of the use of these devices, and of a vision for how cellphones can be used to revolutionise education. Education should be the last place where technophobia is allowed, let alone entrenched in regulations.”

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