Cellphones in schools: storm continues to gather

THE world has been shrunk into a “village” with a lot of business – both economic and social – now being conducted in virtual space, necessitating wide coverage of new multi-media technologies such as computers, tablets and mobile phones.

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Phillip Chidavaenzi

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Over the past 10 years, President Robert Mugabe embarked on a schools’ computerisation campaign which saw many schools receiving computers so that they could keep up with new technological advancements.

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The advent of the smart phone in recent years has accelerated the pace, making it possible for almost everyone to access internet services using their mobile phone.

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Education minister Lazarus Dokora recently waded into the murky waters of controversy when he said as a matter of policy government was not going to fight the introduction of mobile phones in schools.

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He said cell phones enhanced pupils’ technological advancements.

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He said students were allowed to use cell phones in class as a matter of policy but headmasters could exercise their discretion on the matter as government’s position was to embrace technology.
\n“We should embrace it and allow children to use cellphones in class,” he said.

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In many ways, according to Information Technology (IT) specialist Terrence Rupiya, universal access to mobile phones and tablets presents a variety of advantages to pupils and may be beneficial.
\n“There is a lot of educational material that students can access on the Internet, which means that if a student does not have certain text books or academic materials, they can simply google on their phone,” he said.

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He however observed that there could also be some challenges associated with the use of mobile phones by pupils and need for a close monitoring system.

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Parents wary of cell phones
\nAlthough some parents who spoke to NewsDay said they had no problems buying mobile phones for their children, allowing the children to take the gadgets to school presents a new dimension with which they were not comfortable.

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“My worry,” said Mary Tshuma of Borrowdale, “is that the cell phone will end up being a distraction and my child will not pay attention while in school. I would rather he uses the phone at home under close supervision.”

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She said it was ideal for children to use school computer laboratories to learn and familiarise themselves with ICTs as they would be closely monitored by their teachers.

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Ronald Machaya concurred with Tshuma arguing that mobile phones could be so distractive that they would interfere with a child’s learning process.

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“If you look even at adults, sometimes they spent so much time on the phone at the expense of doing other things,” he said.

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“A lot of man hours can be lost while someone is busy on their cell phone. What more with young children that are still in school?”
\nGokwe-Nembudziya legislator, Justice Mayor Wadyajena (Zanu PF) recently lambasted Dokora for suggesting that children could use cellphones at school.

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Wadyajena, who was handing over computers to Kadzidiriri School in Nembudziya, said such controversial policies risked destroying gains achieved in the education sector since the country attained independence from Britain in 1980.

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“Why do you want cell-phones at schools? Pupils must use their phones at home because at school there are computers for research. Dr Dokora is derailing the education system,” said Wadyajena.
\nWadyajena said encouraging pupils to use cell phones in schools was tantamount to promoting mayhem in the school system.

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School authorities to stand guard

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Sociologist Farai Matanga said he did not foresee a situation where school authorities were going to allow pupils to use cell phones within school premises.

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He said schools were institutions of discipline and order and were organised in such a way that all pupils should appear equal.
\n“When you have other children bringing in cell phones while others do not, you are already creating class barriers,” he said.

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He said children were now so experimental and chances were high that they may end up searching sites that are not suitable for people of their age.

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A headmistress at a boarding school who declined to be named for reasons of protocol said there was no way she was going to allow pupils to bring in cellphones to school.

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“What will happen if we allow something like that to happen is that pupils will get themselves busy with things that will not aid their educational development while they are at school,” she said.

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“On the other hand, it is virtually impossible to monitor use of cell phones by pupils so as a school, we have decided that we will not have children bringing cell phones to school.”

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Although Information and Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira is on record saying mobile phones could facilitate increase use of ICTs in the country.

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He said although cellphones were welcome in schools since such institutions had to embrace technology, it was up to parents and teachers to find ways of managing the use of the gadgets by pupils.
\n“I believe that in schools more tablets rather than phones should be used. Tablets deliver more content such as textbooks — they are more ideal in schools rather than cell phones,” he said.

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Progress Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary general Raymond Majongwe said there was need for the matter to be discussed by stakeholders before a final position is adopted although they had discovered a worrisome trend regarding their use.

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“What makes us wonder is that as a union, we have gone to several disciplinary hearings of teachers who were charged simply because they brought cell phones into classrooms,” he said.

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“As we speak one of our members was charged after attempting to fend off her headmistress who wanted to grab her cell phone and later use it as an exhibit when preferring a charge against her.”

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He said they were still discussing the matter with their members before they reached a consensus.

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In 2012, the National Association of School Governing bodies called for a ban on children using cell phones in South African schools, with the association’s secretary, Matakanye Matakanye, saying cell phones were a “distraction that results in the disintegration of the teaching environment.”

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There was however no consensus on the matter as some saw the cell phone as a valuable learning tool although the Western Cape Education Department (WECD) communication director Paddy Attwell said there was need to explore the use of mobile technology to support teaching and learning.

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“Learners in all communities are gaining access increasingly to smart phones which presents exciting opportunities for teaching and learning.

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“The WCED plans to issue tablets to all principals in the Western Cape this year to (provide) an opportunity for principals to explore the potential of mobile devices for education,” he was quoted saying.

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Rupiya however said the world was being increasingly digitalised and it did not make sense to prohibit pupils from using cell phones at school.

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“We cannot afford to ignore the potential of that these devices present for both teaching and learning. They are part of a wide range, including tablets, of new technological gadgets that are now available to education,” he said.

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“We have a responsibility to utilise their potential and to ensure that we use them effectively to enhance the learning process.”
\nA study done by Mncedisi Maphalala of the University of South Africa last year concluded that if properly managed, the advantage of using cellphones for educational purposes in schools far outweighed the disadvantages.

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“Technology and cell phones are invaluable in our daily lives today, despite the fact that cell phones can be very disruptive to the teaching and learning process in schools.

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“Most of the schools do not have enough resources such as computers to support the teaching and learning process,” said Maphalala in the research report titled The Proliferation of Cell Phones in High Schools: The Implications for the Teaching and Learning Process.
\n“Therefore, cell phone use can mitigate for the shortage of resources in schools.

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“Schools need to embrace cellphones as an educational tool but they should put watertight cell phone policies in place to ensure that technology benefits the education of the learners in the 21st century and beyond.” – NewsDay