Something happened between 2010 and 2012 while I was on maternity leave. On my return to my junior high school, while on playground duty, I noticed a student who was openly using her mobile phone. As required by school policy, I politely asked the student to switch it off and put it in her bag, to which I received the reply, “Oh, no miss, we’re allowed to use our phones now”. A quick detour to the staffroom and it was confirmed that a change in school policy now allowed students to use their phone within the school grounds outside of class time.
I assume there were consultations with the school community and parent groups to discuss the implications of the new policy. But for me it came as quite a surprise, a jump from total restriction to total freedom. It didn’t sit well with me that students were given the okay to use their phones before school, after school, between classes, and during lunch times.
I’m not conservative about technology, and I am certainly not anti-technology in education – in fact, I won an award some years ago for early integration of technologies in my language classes. Technology is a wonderful tool, and for a language teacher especially, a different world that seemed so far and foreign to students, can be bought directly into the classroom and into their lives so that the foreign becomes not so foreign after all.
Having just spent two years drowning in nappies and baby spit, I couldn’t help but to think about my own children, and the kind of school playground I wanted for them. I walked around the playground area, looking at the groups of twelve and thirteen year olds. They are fiercely social creatures at that age, relationships dominate their existence – and that hadn’t changed. They were huddled in their various friendship groups. There was laughter and chatter. But many conversations were conducted with heads faced down at screens. A boy made a rude remark to his mate, they stood up and chased each other around in playful banter, and then the short burst of energy was gone and they went back to the group and the screens. A group of girls were taking selfies and uploading them to their social network accounts. ‘Hey miss, would you like to be in our selfie?’.
There are many great things about smartphones (which I’ll discuss in another post). However, what we know about teenagers is that they often act impulsively, are heavily influenced by their peer groups, and are not always able to think critically, or to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions. These are not good ingredients when you throw in a smartphone in unsupervised conditions. This tool has potentially unlimited access to information and misinformation, allows photos and videos to be uploaded in public spaces in an instant, enables communication with friends, strangers, and predators with equal ease. And while we cannot be sure yet what the impact will be on the mental and physical health of these teens as they grow up, research is coming to light that there are potentially serious side effects.
Our students are most likely connected to their devices at home after school, in the evenings, over weekends and during the holidays. They are also probably connected (under guidance and supervision) in many of their classes for educational purposes. I personally don’t think it would be so overprotective or interfering, to not allow the use of smartphones inside school grounds, unless for educational purposes and guided by an educator, who a) understands how to use technology for educational purposes and b), despite what our dear teenagers may think, is looking out for their best interests.
That’s my 2c. What do you think?
OVER TO YOU …
*What is your school’s policy on smartphones in school playgrounds?
*What do you think about young people’s use of smartphones in school playgrounds?
*Have you seen changes in the playground behaviours of students?
*What strategies do you suggest for getting students to disconnect from their devices?
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