Should Ghana’s High School Students Use Mobile Phones In School?

I have read with disappointment news of senior high school students in Tumu going rampage and damaging school properties over the seizure of their mobile phones. This comes seven months after high school students at Nkwanta did the same when their phones were taken and destroyed.

There have been several unreported protests and misunderstanding in schools regarding the use of mobile phones. It is worrying that students have begun to resort to violence in drumming down their discontentment. These violent demonstrations cause huge financial loss to the schools, interrupts smooth teaching and learning, and creates a sense of fear and panic that takes months to calm.

The closure of the schools following the violence and the arrest of some students speak to the degree of violence involved. I condemn the reaction of students, especially that they resort to violence and destruction of school properties.

The root cause of these reprehensible acts is that students in senior high schools are banned from using mobile phones on campus. The reported rebellion of these students is a subtle indication of an upcoming revolution that may sweep across senior high schools in the country. I would thus, urge headmasters to be tactful in how issues relating to seizing and sometimes destroying students’ properties are handled.

It is true that the use of mobile phones can have adverse effects on students’ learning, especially when they abuse them. However, we need to realise that things have changed in the last few decades, and the rules of old must not necessarily hold for the present. Virtually all high school students use mobile phones at home, and many of them use them secretly at school.

I completed high school close to a decade ago, and it was uncommon those days to see a boarding house student that did not own or use a phone. That was a long time ago, and phone ownership and use in Ghana and Africa have skyrocketed over the last few years. When times change, education needs to change to meet current trends. This is what we are missing.

When the world has transitioned from the age of the digital revolution to the age of nanotechnology, there is no point in banning high school students from using mobile phones. Rather than taboo its use, schools should leverage the use of these devices to enhance teaching and learning. A teacher myself, I make use of students’ mobile phones to enhance teaching and learning.

Doing this has proved effective and students have developed some digital skills as a result. There are lessons where I ask them to bring their phones for use. I have downloaded some useful apps they use, and I use quite a number of these apps (Elevate, Reach, Best Brain, Scribd, etc) myself. I see my students solving past questions on their phones often.

There are basic problems that phones can help students solve. Let me give an example. A few months ago, I advised a student to wake up at dawn to learn. He said it was a difficult thing for him. So we agreed he sets an alarm. The alarm rings but my student feels lazy to wake up. I installed the ‘I can’t wake up!’ application for him and he can now wake up at dawn to learn.

I do not think I am giving my students the wrong training, I am teaching them to use what they already have and use more productively, and this helps both parties. My students know that the usefulness of a smartphone goes beyond calling and using social media. If we do not see its good use, we need not call it evil.

The question we should ask ourselves is this: can schools really stop students from using phones in school? are we not putting students in a situation where they still use phones and make sure we don’t ‘catch’ them? If our government thinks schools can use tabloids and laptops to enhance teaching and learning, why do we think it is impossible to do the same with phones?

It is crucial to place reasonable limits on gadget use in every setting, more so in schools and among teenagers. This is far better than teachers deliberating going in search of phones from students belongings in dormitories to destroy them.

I am not advocating that students are left to use phones at all times and without restrictions. Having taught shortly in high school, I am not oblivious of the challenges that unproductive use of phones poses to students. It can waste their time, empty their pockets and bombard them with irrelevant content.

My point is that we need to stop treating mobile phones as a threat to students’ progress because they can also be the opposite. What we should think of is regulating the use of phones to maximise educational outcomes. We fear the negative use of technology in schools, but the students we are training for the post-digitalised world are going to be bombarded with technology at every point of their life. Shouldn’t we give them the right footing?

…we need to stop treating mobile phones as a threat to students’ progress because it can also be the opposite.

The argument that students will watch porn, make long calls, ignore their books etc. is true. However, these are symptoms of failure in upbringing and socialisation, and this failure is one that education, families, the media and society can address if they decide to.

I have seen several MPs and on a call or texting during parliamentary proceedings, and I am not sure if anyone has suggested we ban them from using phones to prevent this. We have all at one point overused our phones and become less productive as a result. Most of us, if not all, have at some point in our lives used phones in ways we cannot be proud. We will notwithstanding, admit that our phones have opened us to a world of opportunities and made life faster, easier and thus more productive.

The abuse or misuse of mobile phones is a challenge that is not limited to students, and we may as well want to prevent nurses, teachers, doctors, accountants, tertiary students etc. from using phones for these same reasons. The truth is that the ban on phone use in high schools does not take these threats away because students can still do all these and more using other means.

Where do we start? There should be more research on the impact of mobile phones on students’ learning. We need to also explore how to leverage students addiction to mobile phones. We can learn from countries like Uganda and others where rules on phone use in high school are more relaxed. It is time for school management to engage students in dialogue on phone use and come to some agreement that works for all. Teachers should set examples by using their mobile devices productively.

Our ICT or Social Studies curriculum can include the productive use of mobile phones for enhanced teaching and learning. It can also address the issue of addiction t mobile devices. Most schools have no or inadequate computers, and their students have phones while few own computers. There are tonnes of educational apps and brain games that have enormous benefits for students.

If we can have textbooks, illustrations, tools and past questions etc. on phones, we can overwhelmingly increase access to teaching and learning materials that are unavailable or inaccessible in public schools. If we allow learners to collaborate with other learners, we create room for teamwork and transfer of knowledge and skills in a globalising world.

The solution to our fears lies in teaching students to use phones right and enforcing reasonable limits to increase productivity. This takes responsibility, dialogue, planning and leadership. If schools cannot influence students to use technology right, which other institution can?

…if schools cannot influence students to use technology right, which other institution can?

We cannot continue to suppress students’ interest in the use of phones; it has come to stay. It is important to accept that no matter how hard schools try, students will continue to use phones secretly until staff ‘catch’ them. In the coming years, our high school students may be revolting against conventional and conservative beliefs as we have seen them start. We need to go back to the drawing board and draw a plan that gives us a win-win situation. The world is changing and so must education.

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