There has been discussion of late on Prince Edward Island about banning students from using mobile telephones in school; the discussion originated with the PEI Home and School Federation. The rationale? President Wendy Macdonald was quoted by the CBC as explaining:
…parents on P.E.I. have said they’re not comfortable with how quickly young people are using the latest technologies to change the way they communicate with one another.
When I first heard of this decision, I found myself in general agreement — “kids should be concentrating on learning about Magellan and quadrilateral triangles in school, not sending SMS messages to each other,” I said to myself.
But I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially since we arrived in mobile phone-drenched Portugal, and I now think the decision is wrong-headed.
While parents may be “not comfortable” with the pace of new technologies — and are parents ever comfortable with the pace of new technologies? — these new technologies are here, they’re being used, and they’re being used in places that aren’t Prince Edward Island to a much greater extent than they are on PEI.
Here in Europe you can bank with your mobile, pay parking tickets with your mobile, get travel information, check your email, watch television and edit movies. Mobile devices are a part of everyday life here, and absolutely everyone carries one: I’ve seen them in the hands of kids in grade 7 and in the hands of seniors.
On a visit to the art gallery in Porto last week we saw high school students taking digital pictures of art with their mobile phones. On the train up to Régua this week we sat beside a group of older woman, many of whom were checking their mobiles for text messages from their seats.
If the experience here is any guide — and I’m pretty sure it is — the future is going to involve some sort of mobile device in the hands of everyone most of the time.
While we can debate the merits of this like we debated whether or not the coming of the pocket calculator would result in kids who couldn’t add or subtract, there is an inevitability here that makes it seem rather short-sighted to try and make the future go away because you’re “not comfortable” with it.
Surely if schools have any role at all, it is to shape and guide the use of new technologies. Taking the “prohibition” tack never, ever works with kids; you only have to look at underage binge drinking to understand what pretending to hide something away in a box does for educating responsibility.
So rather than trying to stamp mobile phones out of the classroom, why not make sure that every child has access to one, regardless of income. Build aspects of the curriculum around mobile devices, foster community, harness the power of ubiquitous network access, take advantage of the fact that kids are attracted to the technology to channel its use in positive ways.
I’m pretty sure that whenever parents say that they’re “not comfortable with how quickly young people are using the latest technologies” this should be a call to schools to grab onto whatever the latest technology is and allow their students to fly with it.