Yesterday the UK Telegraph and News of the World newspapers reported that minister of education Michael Gove had announced plans to ban mobile phones from school classrooms from September 2011. This would form part of government guidance to schools due to be published in July 2011.
Whether such reports are true or not are open to considerable doubt. It seems more likely that Give will give powers to schools to ban phones although they probably could do so anyway. What is in no doubt is Gove’s belief in a very traditional idea of education and his skepticism (or non understanding) of the potential of technology for learning. One of the coalition government’s first acts was to abolish the BECTA support agency for technology in education.
And Gove is proposing giving powers to teachers to confiscate phones form students and search their text messages although it would seem possible that this would be struck down by the European Court of Human Rights.
Anyway as the Telegraph article circulated by Twitter there was a quick reaction from the education community with a Google doc based petition being set up within two hours:
We, the undersigned, believe that such a ban would scupper successful mobile learning initiatives and is a short-sighted, reactionary move. We call for a mobile phone ban to be removed from any guidance published by the DfE.
The petition contains a comments column and elicited many interesting replies.
Danielle Bayes, a teacher, reflected the views of many saying:
Banning mobile devices won’t go any way to helping students understand how to use them appropriately and to their advantage. And for every negative news story concerning mobiles in schools, where is the publicity for the hundreds of thousands of children who are innovators of their time and creatively use them to further their learning?
Hilary Curtis added a parent’s perspective
I expect/require my son to take his phone to school, so that he can let me know if he has chosen to go to the park or a friend’s house afterwards. This is an important element of teaching him safety and responsibility. The only safe place for him to keep it at school is in his bag, which means it is with him in class, although he is quite properly not allowed to use it then (though I agree with other comments that there could be planned educational use of phones too). Schools already have perfectly adequate powers to set their own rules in such matters.
Deputy Headteacher Steve Philp said:
This is just a way of discriminating against the poor. At my school (50% FSM within top 20% deprivation); most parents communicate using mobile phones – it is their way of accessing the internet and information. We are exploring ways of bringing mobile technology into the classroom to increase the links between all our stakeholders (parents, governors, staff and students particularly) and this ban will just disenfranchise students and parents, de-skill teachers and alienate governors.
And Ewen McIntosh reflected the comments of many in that modern technologies cannot be ignored in education:
The problem is not with the device, in the same way that it is not paper that is fault for those writing hateful remarks in books, or in racist pamphlets.
The problem is one of attitudes towards students’ ability, wherever they are, to communicate in private. The attitude of students can be a negative one. But it is the attitude of parents, teachers, school leaders and Governors, that allows us to take negative attitudes and practices, and educate youngsters in the huge potential these devices have for their learning and participation in the democratic process.
Mobile phone use is a crucial part of today’s information architecture, for understanding the world around us and having one’s say in it. To remove it from the principle place of learning is equivalent to removing books in the 16-19th century, televisions and overhead projectors in the 20th century, and the internet in the beginning of the 21st century.
The list continues to grow. It is encouraging that many of the signatures are from teachers and school leaders as well as researchers and developers. But it also poses a question of how a space and discussion opened up in response to reported government policy initiatives can be transformed into a longer term and positive campaign and space for exploring ideas and innovation in technology and pedagogy..