New Zealand: Secondary schools, mobile phones and unsupported teachers

Every kid worships Steve Jobs.  And his comment?  Technology can’t fix education.

New Zealanders aren’t talking enough about mobile phones in classrooms.

Mobile phones can be great assets.  They are calculators, cameras, audio recorders and calendars.  They provide access to the internet for information gathering.  Great.

But what happens when teenagers have unfiltered access to the internet at school? What happens when they take inappropriate photos?  When cyber bullying happens during school time?   Who is responsible for this?

And if mobiles are used for information searches, as so many sites advocating use of mobiles in the classrooms proclaim, how does the teacher assist the child to properly screen for good and accurate content?  When there are 30 kids in the classroom? How does this work?

Schools cannot filter mobile phone content.  They can filter wireless content onto school technology.

And does New Zealand have a CIPA – Children’s Internet Protection Act?

A teacher in the Bay of Plenty laughed when I asked if every teenager had a mobile. Many children have 3, as all their friends are on different plans.  So all three phones are on the kids desks at school.  Or in the bag next to the desk.

School rules may clearly state that phones are not to be at school or in the classroom during a lesson, but in reality this does not happen.

This teacher is wary of taking phones from children and putting them in a safe place, as if the phone is lost ‘on the teachers’ watch’, it must be paid for personally.  What!

When did this change?  When I was growing up and if I brought something to school it was my responsibility.  If it got lost or broken I shouldn’t have taken it to school.

The teacher can only take a mobile phone in the hand and hold it there for the lesson.  School management will not back the teacher up if it gets lost.  Parents are angry and defensive: ‘my child needs his/her phone, you have no right to take it from them’.   This sounds like a pretty shortsighted policy, that doesn’t put education first.

There is not enough discussion on this subject.  A look at the internet finds a pro-mobile phone article in the Education Review with a survey sponsored by Vodaphone. Well, that’s not exactly unbiased.

1 in 5 children report cyber bullying.  And don’t get me started on social networking sites (and the amount of time kids spend on them Vs real information searches for homework related information content).

Distracted people don’t perform well. Every organisation understands that people need to manage emails and incoming information strategically, even texting is an issue in corporate meetings.   How can we expect teenagers to do any better?

I particularly think for kids under 15, this is insane.  These kids are too young to self regulate.  Whilst in the last 2 years it could be commensurate with increased seniority.  Maybe.

Steve Jobs on technology in schools:
“I’ve helped with more computers in more schools than anybody else in the world and I absolutely convinced that is by no means the most important thing. The most important thing is a person. A person who incites your curiosity and feeds your curiosity; and machines cannot do that in the same way that people can. The elements of discovery are all around you. You don’t need a computer. Here – why does that fail? You know why? Nobody in the entire world knows why that fails. We can describe it pretty accurately but no one knows why. I don’t need a computer to get a kid interested in that, to spend a week playing with gravity and trying to understand that and come up with reasons why.”

“You need a person. Especially with computers the way they are now. Computers are very reactive but they’re not proactive; they are not agents, if you will. They are very reactive. What children need is something more proactive. They need a guide. They don’t need an assistant. I think we have all the material in the world to solve this problem; it’s just being deployed in other places.”
Full excerpt by Daniel Morrow from the Smithsonian Institute here.

My husband has worked all his life in I.T..   We want our kids to do well at school, and we know that good quality teaching has a lot more to do with concentration, inspiration and hard work than it has to with online access.

To deprive a teenager of a cell phone results in major social trauma.  Yup.  Is this what it is all about?

Interestingly, a Massey University research project found that: “Past students interviewed agreed with school staff, in the main that cell phones, as social communication tools should not be distracters in formal school time.”   One of its conclusions was that schools need ‘positive attitudes towards cell phone usage and policy formulation’.

You will concentrate more and get better grades if you don’t look at your mobile and text message regularly during class.  That’s positive.

Parents do need more information to help them understand the consequences of one teacher with 30 kids with 30+ mobiles.  They need to understand it is not just their kid with one little text message.  Teachers need more support when they make decisions based on the entire class’s interest.

Discussion and debate needs to be comprehensive and open so parents can fully understand decisions that may have lifelong repercussions for their child, and their child’s classmates.


Disclosure: I am in the digital class Native(6).

About Jodie

It is only by questioning and discussing and attempting to view the world our childrens children will live in, that we start to understand that life isn't a linear process - it is a room of dominoes falling. Our world has a lot of special interests and stakeholders that by default, keep science undone, and economics hooked in the 1920's - resulting in governments that don't address the complexity that is challenging our world. From pollution to mental health (and the cost of food) to the health of our freshwater - it's complex and dynamic. What equilibrium do we want to reach - a healthy vital one or a suffering one?
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