/Smartphones in the classroom – yay or nay?

Smartphones in the classroom – yay or nay?

The issue of whether students should use smartphones in the classrooms of primary, secondary and tertiary education institutions has left educators divided.

Research suggests some students use their mobile devices for academic purposes while others suggest they don’t. But educators note that utilising technology in the classroom can be both a blessing and a curse.

Those who argue for the use of mobile phones in the classroom say it has many educational features and can provide students of various socioeconomic backgrounds a level playing field when they are given the same device to support learning.

One study suggested that pupils do use devices to aid learning, with one student noting, “A few days ago, my friend didn’t understand one of the questions on the Science homework, so he Facetimed me, and I showed him my answer and I explained how I got that answer to him.”  

From a tertiary education standpoint, a recent article by Inside Higher Ed argues that smartphones have become a necessity for students, while a lack of access to these devices can hurt academic performance.

In the article, Matt Reed, Vice President for Learning at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey, notes that smartphones have become a necessity as “most students work significant hours for pay, and don’t have the option of devoting extended blocs of time to a computer lab.”

He observed that students need to be able to “compose on the fly” and often write papers via their mobile phones.

Interestingly, in 2016, Italy chose to overturn its smartphone ban in schools, with euronews reporting that the country’s Education Minister, Valeria Fedeli, felt that smartphones could facilitate learning among students.

However, those who argue against the use of mobile phones in the classroom say teachers will have difficulty monitoring how students use these devices to support their learning, in addition to acting as a distraction or fuelling their addiction to the devices.

Elizabeth Stone, Principal of Queenwood School for Girls in Mosman, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the school asks parents of K-6 students (primary schools or public schools) to give them basic mobile phones without internet access, adding that smartphones are distracting and addictive.

Meanwhile, a study by the London School of Economics found that student test scores improved following a ban on phone use in school.

Additionally, France recently banned students between the ages of three and 15 years of age from using their smartphones in class.

While smartphone use in the classroom continues to polarise experts and educators, research has yet to provide clear answers on the matter, further fuelling the divide.

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