Pupils’ use of technology has been a much-debated topic in the education community of late. One boarding school has gone so far as to ban mobile phones altogether, but is a total eradication of tech the solution to the creep of mobile technology into our classrooms? Or, in doing so, are we creating an artificial environment so unlike the real world that it could actually compromise their future success?
Rare is the modern-day workplace without email, mobile phones, social media and collaborative-working apps. All the harms and distractions that technology presents inside school exist outside it, and to remove devices altogether ignores the many undoubted benefits they bring: collaboration and teamwork, project management, global networking and access to an unlimited pool of digital tools that allow each individual to tailor their workspace.
A headteacher’s view: 'Why I banned smartphones – and what happened next'
A union leader’s view: 'Schools should model mobile use, not ban them'
Another way to communicate: Teachers urged to use emoji with their students
While a ban on mobile phones may show increased classroom concentration in the short term, could doing so ignore – or even perpetuate – the root of the problem? Teaching responsible digital citizenship can instead equip our teenagers with the skills to succeed in a world where technology is the embedded norm rather than the excluded exception.
Assuming that teenagers are incapable of responsibly using technology also does them a great disservice: here is a generation that has grown up with digital technology woven into their lives and can deftly switch from real, in-person experiences to virtual, shared social interactions and back again with ease. These young people use technology to support and expand their real-life relationships; as teachers and parents, it is our responsibility to help them learn to navigate the risks and reap the benefits.
Moreover, removing technology from our teenagers’ pockets does nothing to ensure they are able to cope with using it once they leave our schools. An enriched life in the 21st century requires a balance of technological engagement and real-world relationships and experiences. It is incumbent on us to ensure that our young people leave school with the skills to manage a digital lifestyle and succeed in an increasingly connected workplace. This can only come with open discourse and clear parameters at home and at school.
Embedding digital technology into teaching at the earliest stages and building an educational philosophy that promotes responsible digital citizenship can be just as effective – if not more so – at improving concentration and academic performance as removing the distractions posed by devices entirely. In fact, we have found that teaching our pupils how to incorporate technology into their learning has improved collaboration, curiosity and critical thinking across our curriculum.
What’s more, the smartphone is the crucial device in this process, as it’s what our teens are already using in their lives – to connect with their peers, to access entertainment, to keep in touch with their parents – and it’s what the adults in their lives are using in the workplace. Take away their tech and you take away their ability to succeed. Instead, we should focus on what we can do to equip pupils for a digitally enabled future.
Pamela Boal is digital strategy coordinator at Morrison’s Academy in Perthshire, Scotland