The Ontario government, under the leadership of its premier Doug Ford (a badly cloned Donald Trump), has announced it will ban cellphone use during ‘instructional time’ in its schools from September. The aim is to help students to focus when studying. This announcement was received with a big cheers from most people over 60, including the Globe and Mail’s editorial board. I also have to admit to sadness when I go to a restaurant and see couples on a date ignoring each other while scrolling through their mobile phones while waiting for their food (last week 10 out of 12 couples were doing this in my local restaurant.)
Well, if it’s good enough for schools and people on dates, why not for universities and colleges? Don’t students have to focus there as well? Indeed, I am sure many instructors already discourage if not actually ban the use of mobile devices in their classes.
But I’m one old guy who thinks that this is entirely the wrong approach.
First it reminds me of compulsory school uniform when I was a lad. My teachers spent more time enforcing the school’s dress code than they did teaching me mathematics (and I spent more time trying not to wear my school cap than doing my homework). If kids are anything like me when I was their age, they will do everything in their power to get round the ban. (However, I did support my wife who as a teacher banned all Walt Disney paraphernalia and wearing baseball caps in class).
More seriously, a ban on mobile phones is an attempt to deny the reality of living in 2019. We should be educating our students in the appropriate use of everyday technology for learning and social purposes, not trying to deny the existence of the technology. I can’t better the reasoning of another Globe and Mail contributor, Jamie Mitchell, who argues that banning cell phones is not the answer to getting students to ‘focus’.
He’s not the controller of knowledge any more but a facilitator of learning. This means encouraging students to use their technological devices to find, analyse, evaluate and apply their knowledge. This means giving them engaging tasks in class time that require the use of their phones. Sure they will use it to text other students but then that can be also used for group work and social learning. In particular, mobile phones can be used to support the learning of higher level skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking.
But this means providing criteria and procedures for students that enable their learning.- and also learning when they need to put their phones down and switch off. These are skills and knowledge that are essential for life in today’s society and it is irresponsible for the education system to ignore such needs, any more than banning sex education will stop unwanted pregnancies – quite the contrary.
If schools are not enabling students to manage and use technology appropriately for learning purposes, the pressure on colleges and universities to do this, especially in Ontario, will become even greater, if we are to develop the core knowledge and skills that young adults will need in today’s society.
So, everyone, open up your mobile and find the explanation for e=mc². Then tell me in what circumstances it would be useful to know this equation. (No, Sophie, not to get you admitted into USC).