Mobile phones: 'untapped learning resource'

9th October 2009 at 01:00
School to allow use in class while union rages at `potentially offensive weapons'

Original paper headline: Say hi to mobile phones, the `untapped learning resource'

Pupils at a school in Sheffield could soon be allowed to use their mobile phones in the classroom, despite one teaching union describing them as "offensive weapons".

The radical move is being proposed at Notre Dame High School by assistant headteacher Paul Haigh, who believes pupils' phones are a huge "untapped resource" for teaching and learning and an important cost-saving measure.

"We realise as a comprehensive state school we could never afford to buy every student all the IT and mobile devices we would like them to have. We already have 800-plus computers and, much like adding lanes to the M25, when we buy more we use them all," Mr Haigh said.

"It would be great if students could have access to a range of tools, PDAs, cameras, voice recorders, laptops and netbooks, but it would be very expensive and wasteful to maintain and upgrade all the equipment. Most students own many of them anyway - they're just hidden away in their school bags."

He added: "What's more they are experts in using them, knowing all of the short cuts and characteristics of their own devices as they use them every day."

But the move has been blasted by the NASUWT, which claims mobile phones give pupils the opportunity to "bully and abuse" teachers by uploading comments on social networking sites.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: "These sites are fed by pupils' misuse of mobile phones. The time has come for mobiles in schools to be placed in the category of a potentially offensive weapon and action taken to prevent their use by pupils while on school premises.

But Notre Dame says wants to create a "robust policy" that will enable teachers to dictate when and where mobile devices are used.

Mr Haigh added: "It should be completely at the control of the teacher; if its not the policy isn't clear. It's being made plain to students that having a phone out and checking messages throughout lessons is not acceptable and we would still confiscate the phone. If it's not being used to support learning we don't want to see it."

And despite the NASUW's criticism, a spokesperson for government IT agency Becta said: "It is very encouraging to hear of schools tapping into the technology that is sitting in virtually every student's pocket.

"Today's mobile phones are capable of so much more than texting and can - with the right kind of school-student agreements in place - be an excellent tool for learning.

"Students can download their homework, do research on the internet as well as collaborate with other classmates."

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