Hold the line on mobiles - or join the circus

15th October 2010 at 01:00
"I just don't feel inclined to organise my life around my mobile phone"

Somehow I've missed out on an important evolutionary advantage: the mobile phone gene. Maybe I was born too late, or too early. But there's no escaping it. Unlike most of my contemporaries and all of the next generation, I just don't feel inclined to organise my life around my mobile.

Probably that means the Joneses will go the way of the Neanderthals. Lacking the ability to evolve a bony outcrop above our right ears - the mobile phone "hook" - we will simply die out.

But that doesn't mean I don't try when it comes to mobile communications. Oh, how I try! Reading a recent news article in FE Focus promising "spectacular" improvements in results if students are supplied with techie hand-held gadgets by colleges, I was excited almost to the point of interest.

In case you missed the piece, it begins: "Giving students gadgets - ranging from Nintendo games consoles to iPhones - has helped them stay engaged in learning and may have improved results, according to the official verdict on a mobile learning project."

The project received an amazing - by today's cash-strapped standards - pound;10 million pounds of public money to buy the kit for the 50 or so schools and colleges involved. The most dramatic improvements came in specialist subjects such as land surveying, where students were given industry- standard equipment to do their work. On a soil science course, the failure rate went down from 40 per cent to near zero. Perhaps it's no surprise that if you're given the right tools for the job you'll do that job better, but still those improvements look impressive.

But just as I was warming to the message (and making notes like "how true" in the margins) came the killer blow. It read: "The project also raised the possibility that colleges might have to revise policies on mobile phones."

Now if this means what it looks like it means, then I - along with 99 per cent of my colleagues who teach for a living - will respond as one: no, no, no, no, no! In fact that would under-represent the strength of our objection, which would probably be more like "no" to the power of 1,000.

At present, most colleges have a simple and unambiguous line on mobile phones in class. They should be turned off when the students come in, and only turned back on when they go out. Allowing them to have the ringtone on silent doesn't work either. As soon as it starts to vibrate, they're on their feet and heading for the door pleading an urgent call of nature.

Each year, it gets harder to hold the line. But if we don't, then you might as well substitute the word circus for class - with the hapless bod at the front swapping the role of teacher for that of clown.

The problem is that students who have grown up with the mobile don't see their being in constant touch with the wider world as an option, but as a human right - like an earlier generation might have seen life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The worst offenders - at least among the adult students I teach - are parents, which in nine out of 10 cases means mothers. Their fear seems to be that if they are out of touch with their infants for more than half an hour they will die. Or at least something so terrible will happen to them - like banging their elbow or sneezing loudly - that they will never be able to forgive themselves.

I wonder just how I survived childhood. When I was sent off to school, we had no phone of any sort - landline or mobile - to raise the alert, so it would have had to be a telegram, brought to the door by a man in bicycle clips and a peaked cap, to bring my mother running: "Catastrophe, come quickly, little Stevie has grazed his knee!"

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.

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