Perhaps the Honorable Minister Lazarus Dokora has a point

I will have it be known beforehand that I actually have a rap for being anti-establishment, you know the whole swim against the school (pun intended) thing like Jesus.

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The Minister of Education

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But in this instance I feel I need to take a stance and accept the novelty of allowing phones into schools because as a person who has witnessed the education system for a while now I don’t think cell phones are disruptive in schools, they are pragmatic.

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For those of us who are lost, let us back up a little bit. A while back, sometime at the beginning of the previous month, there were some controversial utterances made by the good minister of education, Lazarus Dokora.

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You might know him as the guy who has been overseeing all those controversial things like surprise visits to schools in order to catch the Heads napping, thinks BEAM is alive and well, banned extra lessons (like that would ever work), took the precious incentives away from teachers, banned vacation holidays (that will hurt boarding school students) and thinks schools should report your parents to the Traditional Chief if they fail to pay your fees.

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Come on you know him, guy yay high, dark-skinned guy with a permanent bemused expression and I swear I have never thought his beard unkempt. Well, the good minister had the audacity to say that school students should be allowed to bring their cell phones to school because “we live in an era of technological advancement.”

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Now, to use a favorite Zimpapers cliche, (I dare you to find a publication without this phrase in at least one of the stories and probably more, you can start with the HMetro) this has not gone down well with  a lot of stakeholders who questioned the wisdom of allowing such a policy into effect as they feel that cell phones are disruptive and on that point alone have dismissed the whole notion as absurd and not worthy of any further consideration.

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Now, I disagree with those who are opposed to the idea of cell phones in schools. I think the first mistake they are making is calling them cell phones. The moniker, while still in use today, is nothing but a misnomer.

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Today’s phones are hardly phones anymore. They ought to be called, rightly, smart devices for obvious reasons. They are smartphones, phablets or tablets with a lot more functionality than just placing or receiving calls. These are features that they have had for a couple of years now, something the protestants to the phone policy ought to be aware of.

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I am part of a school which has a controlled WiFi internet connection that students are allowed to use. When a student gets within the school premises they are required to switch their device into Flight/Airplane mode and instead turn their WiFi on which disables the calling functionality. I am not sure whether this works for all phone models, but all the Android devices our students have can be placed in Airplane mode but still be able to access WiFi.

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We use a lot of educational apps like dictionaries and thesauruses. All our literature lessons are conducted using the Aldiko app. This software acts to download a lot of the books which are freely available under public licenses as most of the author’s copyrights have lapsed. These include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The entire works of William Shakespeare, Tennyson, Coleridge, Mark Twain.

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Don’t get me started on the educational websites like englishpage.com, the Wikipedia, Investopedia, Tutor2u and, of course, our all time favorite the Google Search page; the gateway to limitless knowledge. We have even begun to post some of our notes online for them to access them wherever they want to use their mobile network’s bundles.

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I can certainly say that our students have been the better because of it (allowing cell phones into the school). First there are the substantial savings on textbooks which the parents in my impoverished community cannot afford.

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A good student’s dictionary alone will cost you about $30 in genuine bookstores, a Thesaurus a further $30, then there are the endless English grammar books that we use, the recommended reading list for Advanced level will peg you back nearly $300, Geography $400 just to mention a few subjects.

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A cheap Android phone will cost you way less and still allow you to have these things for free; we actually do not mind the ads. The cost is way less than what it would cost to buy a computer, which neither we nor the schools in our neighborhood can afford.

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Students in most rural areas have always done poorly when it comes to science subjects because they lacked exposure to the practical side of science. The laboratories in all the schools in my area do not work that well due to things like lack of staff, chemical shortages and unsustainable running costs.

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Students have had to sit in long boring lessons as they learn about how Litmus paper turns red in acidic solutions and blue when it comes in contact with a basic solution or how the Benedict’s solution turns brick red (they don’t even know what brick red actually looks like) in the presence of sugars. Using little video clips from YouTube we were able to achieve a 100% pass rate in Science this year! Even those who came to our school after failing passed because of cell phones.

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When using their phones today’s generation comes alive. They lose their timidity and uncertainty as they plunge into a familiar element. Why should we not harness that interest and liveliness to actually make them learn something.

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Multimedia lessons on phones are the most popular at my school. You should see their eyes sparkle and glaze as they watch the pollution documentaries on their phones or as they are wowed by the wonders of the Amazon and the Grand Canyon, as they learn about the mysteries of the Nile and the allures of the Great African Rift valley.

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They forget themselves and lose their impressionable selves into the lake of knowledge. It is not uncommon for them to actually beg us to extend the lessons something that they have never done when we decided to take a reading from the much hated Geography Today book.

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Cellphones are disruptive alright, in the positive innovative sense. The benefits have been so substantial we no longer just allow cellphones into the school we sort of require you to have one! Hence the need and urge I had to come to make a spirited defense of the Honorable Minister, I think, no I know, he has a point. Taking away cellphones from the school based on the flimsy and superficial “they are disruptive” claim is ill-advised, nay it is cruel to our children.-TechZim