WE ARE 100 PER CENT CERTAIN that any decision by the Ministry of Education to allow students to carry their cellular phones to school will bring with it a whole new set of administrative and disciplinary challenges.
It is therefore understandable why teachers and their unions would have concerns, and why some principals might be cringing at the thought of having to manage nearly 1 000 cellular phones in a confined space.
However, it would be very hard for anyone to find fault with the rationale of the ministry for the drafting of a set of guidelines as a precursor to allowing the ubiquitous devices on school campuses in the hands of students. Whether or not we like it, the smartphone is a critical communications device with multiple constructive functions and if properly managed, can be a most effective tool in the teaching/learning process.
Anyone who attends any church today would recognise that not many congregants below a certain age still walk with the paper version of the Bible that was once a staple of worship. Instead, they have instant access to multiple versions and all sorts of supporting documentation at their fingertips.
Of course, some “worshippers” will stray from time to time and surf the Net, check their Facebook accounts and read emails, but such “sins” would hardly be an acceptable basis for banning phones from church.
By the same token, irresponsible use of cellphones by students and the failure of too many parents to support teachers and principals when they try to instil discipline have left many wary of this proposal. It is not misplaced apprehension.
But can we treat cellular phones and other similar hand-held devices the way puritans and other religious zealots of past centuries dealt with books – confine them to the bonfire? Or we can decide that the key to successful implementation must include sensible and tough rules, the enforcement of these rules with prescribed penalties for infractions and the unqualified support of parents?
In these times of financial scarcity, we can reduce considerably the annual cost of providing textbooks on paper by making them available to nearly 50 000 students digitally. Across our school system the library services can be significantly enhanced by the access to legitimate, authoritative websites during class/school time.
Our students can also have instant access to alternative teaching/learning methods from other jurisdictions that are ahead of us via the technology. We therefore support the initiative of the Ministry of Education, but we urge those responsible to immediately engage the various unions, as well as education associations, to ensure that all their concerns are considered.
Running away from the issue because it comes with challenges, without recognising the significant benefit, would be folly. Our country has led the region in so many areas because we were not afraid to step outside the box. Now is not the time to display naked timidity – not when we have the opportunity to remove the intrigue that accompanies the rule-breaking involved in getting a phone into a school today.
When the phone becomes as unobtrusive as a book in the hands of primary students, they will quickly graduate to the secondary level minus the mystique and drama that now appear to fuel deviance.