There is a lot of talk, at the moment, about banning smartphones in schools in Ireland. Now, it so happens, that the teacher conferences are being held this week, during the Easter holidays, and teacher welfare and their plight is very much to the fore in the media and in the minds of politicians; this is the ideal opportunity to “put one over” on a political opponent, if that is what you’d like to do.
The Daily Mail (excuse the source) are reporting that Thomas Byrne T.D., an opposition politician, has called for a ban on smartphones in schools and has vowed to introduce legislation to make it illegal. Firstly, apologies, I have not read the complete article; it is in The Daily Mail. Secondly, it is unlikely that this sniping from the wings, while the sitting minister for education is facing criticism from teacher’s unions, is genuine. It’s most likely political. This “pearl-clutching”, “Will no one think of the children” nonsense should fool none of us.
Mr. Byrne, in 2016, decried the lack of ICT training in schools and demanded that something be done. Included in his suggestions, was an increased investment in technology and coding classes in all schools. The opposition T.D. pointed to the fact that, as a country, we needed people with IT skills and one way to ensure that we could compete was to make sure our young people had equipment and skill. Here, now, is the same man proposing to make illegal the possession of the very tool that could be used to deliver on his demands. Colour me confused.
In Ireland, we tend to go for outright bans; we like to restrict and abolish things. How about, this time, we approach, instead of avoid. There is an opportunity here, for someone who reportedly knows something about education, to lead. To forge a new path. There is an opportunity to look to evidence and not anecdote, to eschew political one-upmanship, and to embrace new technology.
Smartphones come equipped with email, the internet, social media, a camera, a diary, access to a gazillion apps, a calculator, a microphone and speaker, a video player…all sorts of fantastic tools…Can we see no way that these bits’n’bobs could be used as teaching aids? None? Is there no way that the communication affordances of the phone can be used to collaborate with other students, other classes, schools, other counties, other countries? Is there no possibility that the creative abilities of students can be expressed using smartphone technology? No? Can we not see possibilities for something as basic as Googledocs? I’ll bet students can!
In this county, we have to move away for bans; they haven’t worked out very well for us, in the past. We need to realise that smart technology is….well….it’s just that; it’s smart! Why not use it as it was meant to be used. We need to speak to young people about this, too. Nowhere, in the current debate, has the opinion of those to be affected, been sought….AGAIN!
We can do better than this.