THE EDITOR: The issue of smart phones in classrooms arose in the recent joint select committee meeting with education representatives from TTUTA (TT Unified Teachers Association), the NPTA (National Parent-Teacher Association) and the Ministry of Education.
Most of the representatives regarded mobile phones as dangerous gadgets which must be severely restricted. Only Gerard Phillip of the ministry pointed out that its policy on mobile phones was to maximise the use of these technologies for teaching and learning.
It might be surprising to many that several important research projects have been done at UWI on the use of digital instructional technologies, but because our leaders have scant regard for local effort, these have been kept on obscure library shelves. It was refreshing to hear Phillip’s enlightened and professional articulation of a sensible policy on this item of educational technology.
It is possible for mobile phones to be abused, just as a cutlass, pen and paper, lead pencils and fixed phones might be abused. Mobiles can be used for cyberbullying, but this can take place whether or not they are banned in schools. They can be disruptive and distractive in the classroom, and can facilitate cheating. But such occurrences generally reflect poor classroom management.
There is also the factor of affordability, but group projects can help overcome this obstacle. In addition, there is the matter of connectivity. However, the PNM manifesto of 2015 assured us that government will ensure that all students in all schools have free and easy access to fast broadband internet (p. 40). Therefore, in the fullness of time, this challenge will disappear.
On the other hand, smart mobile phones have access to the internet, facilities for communications, audio-recording capability, and cameras capable of taking stills and videos. These attributes can be exploited to enhance teaching and learning.
I have personally benefitted from using Google translate in learning a foreign language. Cameras can be used to record development of plants, progressive degradation of the environment, problems being worked on the whiteboard, electrical circuits and social issues in a community.
I recently had to replace a faulty part on a dishwasher and, after exposing the circuit, I took a photograph so that I could avoid making wrong connections to the new part.
The mobile phone can allow students to make contact with experts in a range of fields in order to obtain current, real-world information; to make learning motivational and meaningful. There are many demonstrations on YouTube that can assist students, and these can be replayed as often as required.
On the last occasion that I taught tech/voc teachers at UWI, they successfully completed assignments to create and post video clips on YouTube, on practical tasks that spanned machining, agriculture and food preparation. What is the use of delivering such training if short-sighted leaders and modern Luddites wish to ban smart phones in the classroom?
I appeal to the leaders of the ministry, TTUTA and the NPTA to undertake research before attending very important meetings so that their contributions to education will be more progressive.
DAVID SUBRAN via e-mail