Pupils should take tests by text message, says report urging mobile revolution

2nd September 2011 at 01:00
But union argues the devices are too limited to be useful in the classroom

The majority of schools in the UK have failed to see the potential of handheld devices such as the iPhone for teaching and learning, according to a new study.

The report, conducted by influential mobile operator association GSMA, says electronic devices including tablets, e-readers and mobile phones have yet to be fully adopted by schools and universities despite their educational benefits.

"Given that smartphones are much more readily available and already in use in the general population, it is surprising that they are not being made more use of," the report says.

Pupils should be completing class tests through text messaging, downloading podcasts to aid learning and using mobiles to research topics they are studying, the report suggests.

While the research names a small number of schools and universities supporting innovation and adopting new technologies, it says few of the growing number of mobile education projects go on to be "fully implemented" while many "disappear once external funding ceases".

The criticisms follow an attack on British education by Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, who said the IT curriculum needed to be overhauled and include computer science.

Mobile phones are often criticised by teaching unions for being a distraction in the classroom, while concerns have been raised after pupils have been caught filming their teachers.

Last year, legislation was introduced that allowed teachers to confiscate mobiles and other electronic devices from pupils. Since then, education secretary Michael Gove has called for a ban on mobile phones in the classroom.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said it was not a school's responsibility to test new devices.

"It's not the school's job to be leading technology," he said. "They don't want to be experimenting with what does and does not work."

He also said that the mobile platform presents challenges rather than just opportunities. "The platform isn't ideal for learning given the size of it; it's limited," he said.

But Stephen Heppell, professor of new media environments at Bournemouth University, said schools needed to up their game in relation to technology.

"Schools have been far too slow," he said. "It was clear even in the 1990s that mobile phones had a key part to play in learning, when things were properly organised.

"In particular, at a time when money is tight, ignoring the potential of so much technology is wasteful."

Professor Heppell added that schools which adopt mobiles in lessons had fewer problems with them than schools which try to ban them.


iPads for all

The GSMA report praises Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock, Scotland, for its innovative use of mobile technology in lessons.

All 105 pupils have been allocated their own iPads. Andrew Jewell, head of the upper primary section of the school, said the iPads had motivated pupils. "It offers a wealth of educational resources that can be tapped in to," he said.

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