Tell it to SunStar: Regulate, don’t ban gadgets in schools

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By Herman M. Lagon

This is a step backward.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian’s Electronic Gadget-Free Schools Act, while aiming to reduce distractions and improve academic performance, may inadvertently undermine the potential of using valuable technological tools in education. Instead of a ban addressing cell phones’ disruptive potential, why not embrace technology with appropriate regulations? This approach can enhance the learning experience and make it more engaging and efficient, instilling a sense of optimism about the future of education.

In my tenure as an associate principal and eventually as an integrated basic education principal at a private basic education school in Iloilo, we also faced the issue of cellphone use among students about a decade ago. However, after thorough discernment, we chose regulation over a ban, recognizing that mobile phones are not just communication tools; they serve as electronic dictionaries, research portals, and learning aids. They give way to creative onsite, offsite, and blended learning options; the highlight of its efficacy was during the pandemic. By regulating their use, we form and empower students to learn how to use these tools responsibly, even independently, preparing them for a tech-driven world.

Teaching judiciously with gadgets requires practical and experiential methods. Allowing students to use their phones under reasonable rules helps them make informed decisions. This approach prepares them for a tech-driven world where digital literacy is crucial. Banning phones does not teach discipline; it avoids the issue, leaving students unprepared for real-world challenges.

Modern pedagogy supports the use of gadgets to enhance learning and engagement. Research backs this up, highlighting the effectiveness of technology-driven teaching methods. Many schools can only afford enough tools for some students, but many students already have potent devices in the palm of their hands. By maximizing, instead of banning, these devices can make learning more accessible and personalized.

Allowing cell phone use in classrooms benefits both students and teachers. If teachers struggle with managing student behavior, the issue often lies more with classroom management techniques than with devices. Banning gadgets is a broad solution that does not address the underlying problems. Instead, schools should focus on creating robust policies and training teachers to handle technology effectively.

There are practical reasons for students to have their cell phones. Phones are crucial for communication in emergencies like natural disasters or lockdowns. During an earthquake in Iloilo, students in my previous school, about 2,000 of them, used their phones to contact parents and coordinate safety measures. This happened repeatedly in different emergencies; it would have been a logistical nightmare if the students had not had cell phones then. Phones provide a direct line of communication, proving their value beyond regular classroom use.

Legislators might consider addressing the core issues in education rather than implementing superficial policies. Banning the use of electronic devices in schools will never solve the learning crisis. Understanding and applying how to use technology responsibly and efficiently, and incorporating it into the curriculum, can improve student learning and prepare them for challenges in the digital world.

Mobile devices enable access to up-to-date information, customized learning experiences, and interactive educational apps. A ban on them might restrict creative teaching strategies and impede the growth of critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Modern education requires a more dynamic and engaging learning environment, which technology in the classroom provides.

Using technology in the classroom is part of preparing students for the future, where digital literacy, technical proficiency, multimedia skills, coding, digital computing, and online communication skills are the kings and queens. Limiting their use of digital tools, depriving them of the opportunity to be exposed to technology-integrated engagements while in class, could make them less tech-savvy and digitally ready in their world driven by deep learning, quantum computing, natural language processing, blockchain technology, augmented reality, virtual reality, big data analytics, cybersecurity, 5G technology, cloud computing, and, basically, the Internet of Things. Educational institutions must equip students with the digital literacy necessary to thrive in the modern world. Their future academic and professional success depends on this readiness.

The corollary to this is that students must be taught responsible technology management techniques as the world becomes more digitally connected. Teaching students about digital citizenship and accountable device use should take precedence over outright bans in schools. This method boosts students’ confidence and competence by preparing them for future careers and matching expectations with the real world.

Students with various learning needs, including those who are disabled, can benefit from using mobile devices. Thanks to mobile assistive technologies, these students can interact more deeply with the curriculum. Students needing these tools are denied access when phones are banned, which could lead to a wider disparity in educational equity. For a school environment to be quality, relevant, equitable, and inclusive, all students must have access to these resources.

Also, allowing educators to use technology in the classroom however they see fit can help create a more responsive and dynamic learning environment. A blanket, shotgun approach kind of ban compromises teachers’ professional autonomy and adaptability in meeting their students’ needs. Teachers should freely use the best learning resources to improve instruction and make it more exciting and successful.

While reducing distractions and improving academic performance are admirable goals, the proposed mobile device ban in schools might have unintended negative consequences. The best action may be to take a more balanced approach that promotes responsible technology use and integrates digital literacy into the curriculum. By striking this balance, students can stay focused and disciplined without losing out on essential learning resources.

Strict rules can be implemented instead of a complete ban. Time limits, designated phone zones, and educational initiatives that promote responsible phone use can all be applicable. Schools can implement these controls without compromising students’ access to the academic advantages of their gadgets. This realistic strategy guarantees that technology is utilized in the classroom efficiently and responsibly.

Those who oppose their use in classrooms frequently mention the disruptions and distractions that cell phones can cause. But in a world where technology is increasingly hovering over our lives, cell phones are a necessary and valuable tool. We improve the educational experience by incorporating these tools into research, pedagogy, assessment, and evaluation in the classroom. Educators and administrators are responsible for figuring out how to use this fantastic multi-tool at the school. Let us embrace modern technology and take advantage of all the opportunities it offers.

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