Yes, you heard it right. The Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham and NSW Premier, Gladys Berejikilian have suggested that schools lock up phones until the end of the school day to prevent students’ from being distracted. Naturally the comments generated a lot of debate on radio particularly among frustrated parents and teachers. I understand their frustration. Growing up my children wanted TVs in their bedroom because most of their friends had them. Our response was that we had to renegotiate the boundaries of TV viewing.
The same applies to today’s medium – the mobile phone. This is a boundary issue, not a device issue. The simplistic response is to either ban the technology or blame it for inappropriate behaviour. If mobile phones are such a distraction, then why aren’t we banning them from workplaces also? Simple reason (aside from employee revolt) is that mobile technologies are now part of modern work environments. We’re using them to communicate, collaborate, transact and search so much so that they are no longer devices but tools of our trades.
I believe the bigger question is how we as a society, respond to the seismic shifts happening. Since we can’t ignore the digital age, we must find ways of navigating the new frontier including what we deem as acceptable and appropriate use at home, at work and at school. Banning mobile phones is not a solution, it’s a reaction to the massive waves of ever-changing technologies. There’s an air of anti-intellectualism in all of this – a fear of the new sciences that was just as evident in the time of Galileo.
Let’s look at this as a learning moment involving a learning tool. The focus for schools is on how to use technologies more effectively to engage learners and to improve the quality of teaching in a digital world. We don’t prevent learner drivers from accessing highways nor should we prevent learners from accessing the information superhighway. What they need are good instructors and an array of engaging experiences that develop confidence, knowledge, skill and safe behaviours.
I’m tired of hearing people blaming the tools. Great teachers like Eddie Woo from Cherrybrook Technology High in Sydney are using technology in simple yet powerful ways to engage learners in maths. Engagement is the missing link here. Technology would never be an issue if teachers are maximising the opportunities to deliver relevant learning experiences. Students are tuning into Netflix and YouTube in class because they are turning off the learning. What makes a successful school in the digital age is the concept of a learning community, where teachers and leaders, parents and students are essentially learners, seeing learning (about technology) as a major task of everyone.
The pressing challenge is not to exclude the digital from an out-dated analogue model of schooling. It is to reconsider the very nature of schooling itself which, in today’s world, has two dimensions – the virtual and the physical. Technology has already claimed an important place in society, and while these tools refuse to be constrained by the traditional boundaries, we need to create new ones because they have the power to promote new thinking and vastly different learning experiences for young people.