We have just been through a period in history where the technology in our schools has suddenly became critical to continuing teaching and learning. And yet, we now are once again contemplating banning some personal technology, in the form of students phones, in schools. How can this be the case?
Before I go any further let me acknowledge that schools operate in vastly different contexts across the world and even within the UK. As such all I can offer is a general viewpoint based on the schools I have worked upon. I will therefore accept that there are contexts where it is totally appropriate and advisable to ban student mobile phones. I suspect the most common reasoning is likely to be due to challenging student behaviour. I do not however accept that banning mobile phones is the correct approach for all or even most schools.
So, what are my reasons for this view:
We wish to develop our students as digital citizens ready to live in an increasingly digital world. In our digital world the mobile phone and other mobile devices, plus the apps that run on them are becoming more important. As such we need to work with students to understand how to best use mobile phones and also how to use them safely and responsibly. If we don’t tackle this in schools then we leave it to chance that students will be able to manage their mobile technology use themselves.
Digital skills and familiarity
The pandemic required us to quickly pivot to online teaching and learning. For those schools which were already using technology widely in face to face lessons, this was easier than it was for those schools who were teaching in a more “traditional” and technology-less manner. If we accept that online teaching and learning may happen in future, whether due to a pandemic or maybe just a snow day, then we need to get students used to using technology across the curriculum and their studies. Using mobile phones constructively in lessons helps towards this, whereas banning mobile phones removes a potentially beneficial technology from the classroom.
One of the key security features to keep online services safe is the use of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). This is something we need to be applying to our school services including student accounts, plus something we need to encourage students to enable for their personal accounts. Mobile phones as the second factor are key to this. Banning mobile phones means we cannot enforce and encourage MFA use, thereby making our school systems and our students less secure.
As I said, I understand that contexts exist where banning mobile phones might be acceptable and even the best solution. I don’t however believe this to be an approach which should be applied to all. I very much believe that school leaders are the best people to judge their own schools context and the approach they wish to take towards technology use and the use or not of student mobile phones within school.
My view is that student mobile phones are a technological swiss army knife of tools. With them students can search for information, record key learning from lessons, explore new worlds and many other things. They are also likely to play a key part in students lives beyond school and therefore it is important we start developing the relevant skills and understanding as to their positive use, starting in schools, starting now. Mobile phones, with their biometric authentication, combined with MFA, also help to make students digital existence more secure.
Given all that has happened over the last year or so, and the critical part that technology played plus the issues around access to appropriate student devices, I find it strange that we are still discussing a blanket ban of mobile phones, a technology device, from schools. We should be seeking to make more and better use of technology in schools not banning it.