Cell Phones in Schools – The Great Debate

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With today’s technological advances making cell phones pervasive into nearly every aspect of people’s lives, it comes as no surprise that cell phones in schools have become a hotly debated topic. There are advocates on both sides: some claim that cell phones are an inappropriate distraction during school hours, others embrace students’ familiarity with them and utilize them in class. While the jury is still out, both sides do have some intriguing points.

Mobile phone advocates claim many benefits to using the devices in educational settings; some of these advantages include:

  • Parental Involvement. Students can use cellular phones equipped with cameras to take pictures of projects they complete in class, such as group projects that utilize only class time. Generally, in these situations, students do not conduct any research or assembly of such projects at home, so parents do not get to see the result of their child’s efforts in the classroom. Allowing students to use cell phones in this capacity encourages parental involvement in their child’s life, as well as supporting their educational development.
  • Missing Assignments. Teachers can enact a buddy system in which students email or text each other with the details of assignments their buddy missed due to an absence. This will save teachers valuable time they would have otherwise spent assembling makeup packets, and will instill a sense of responsibility among students for themselves and each other.
  • Note-Taking. Students that have problems keeping up in class when taking notes can utilize the camera feature of their mobile phone to snap photos of the notes and save them for later studying and showing parents or tutors, as well as classmates who may have missed part of them. Teachers can also incorporate taking photos of notes into their buddy system for missing assignments, and allow students to forward missed information during class time to absent classmates, and likewise allow them to receive such information if they are absent.
  • Real-World Tools. Cell phones usually have features such as calculators, which most high school math classes require. Using the calculator function of their cell phone can teach students the real-world skill of utilizing what they have on hand to calculate mathematical problems in their everyday lives.
  • Improving Focus. Students with cell phones that feature music capabilities and ear buds can use them during homework periods or times of otherwise independent study. Many students find listening to music a relaxing study habit and studies of learning styles indicate that some students learn best while listening to music while working problems or reading. Students who are comfortable while studying are more likely to study longer, more often, and produce more positive results than those who do not listen to music.

On the other hand, many believe that cell phones will only contribute to already existing problems in schools, such as cheating, disrespecting teachers and staff, and instigating trouble amongst other students; some even cite the possibility of utilizing cell phones for illegal activities during school.

  • Cheating. Using a cell phone, regardless of the age of the user or the location from which they use the phone, comes with responsibility. Some advocates of banning cell phones in schools state that utilizing the camera function of a cell phone enables students to cheat on tests by snapping photos of answer keys, test contents, or the answers on a neighbor’s paper.
  • Disrespect. Students could use their phones for all sorts of mischief in class, including using the audio recording function of them to record teachers or other staff during lectures or other conversations without them being aware of the recording. Students could then use those recordings to take the speaker’s words out of context and present them in a manipulative light.
  • Instigating Trouble. Students can use their cell phones during school to cause problems amongst students and bully others. School-related violence and cases of bullying are on the rise, and officials already have their hands full dealing with problematic students and keeping order in their institutions; allowing students to use devices such as cell phones during school hours will make such problems easier to perpetrate and harder to control.
  • Illegal Activities. Students can use cell phones during school to carry out illicit activities such as placing or taking orders for drug deals, provoking students to fight each other, take and place bets on sporting events or other forms of gambling, or planning events such as bomb threats and other security breaches.
  • Distraction. Almost all of those in favor of banning cell phones from schools say that allowing their use in class will distract students from their studies. Features such as internet access and video gaming capabilities are the most frequently cited as the biggest distractions. While the internet can provide legitimate researching capabilities, playing video games provides no educational benefit at all.

Today there are schools making use of both policies. Pasco County’s Wiregrass Ranch High School utilizes mobile phones in many of its classes, including English, math, and social studies. Teachers allow students to use their phones to research literature and authors, calculate math problems, and take pictures for class projects, among other tactics. Students in this district say that they feel more respected and trust than students in districts who do not have such a privilege, and acknowledge that the devices can help them learn more about their world, both past and present. Regarding the area of behavior management, teachers in the school no longer must battle students on a daily basis to put their phones away or to pay attention during class. Instead, they are integrating cell phone usage into their lesson plans and students are participating during class more and benefiting. Students can take care of their personal business on their cell phones before and after school as well as during lunch and passing periods, so personal distractions really are a non-issue. Administrators acknowledge that some students will and do abuse the privilege. Rules, such as use restrictions and removal of other non-cell phone related privileges, are in place to discourage would-be goof-offers.

Most schools throughout the country instate some type of cell phone ban in their districts, mostly due to their connections to illegal activity and their disruptions during class. Some cite security issues, stating that ready student access to cell phones while on campus does not make them safer in the event of a violent event, even going so far as to state that they can complicate the jobs of emergency responders in such an instance. These schools also say that ready access to cell phones during the school day only inflames rumors and worsens bullying situations among students. As such, many of them enforce a “we see it, we take it” policy, and notify students as well as parents of the strict nature of such policies.

Some schools have begun to relax their mobile phone policies while others continue to uphold their bans, even tightening up their rules prohibiting the presence and usage of cell phones while on campus. Both sides have their own clear reasons for keeping their courses of action, and only time will tell as to which theory is more successful in educating students.

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