Welcome to the mobile classroom

19th January 2007 at 00:00
Teachers are keen to use phones for lessons, but officials are still cautious over health risks

some teachers and technology companies are disregarding Government health advice and encouraging children to use mobile phones in schools for educational purposes.

In 2000, a Government advisory group chaired by Sir William Stewart urged parents to stop children using mobiles if they wanted to avoid any possible health risk.

The Stewart report acknowledged that there was no proven danger from microwave pulses, but suggested that parents should be cautious as children might be more vulnerable than adults.

Mobile phone signal power has since lessened and there remains no credible evidence of adverse health effects. And, according to the Institute of Education in London, 92 per cent of secondary pupils own mobiles anyway.

But there has been no change to government guidance, and some schools and technology developers believe the potential benefits of using mobiles for learning and social development now outweigh their risks.

Futurelab, an education technology research centre, has been developing mobile phone software for physics and geography lessons and has been piloting one of the systems at Cotham school in Bristol. It declined to comment on possible health risks.

Natasha Lee, a Futurelab researcher who led a workshop on mobile learning in London this week, said that the firm hoped to introduce mobile-related products to a wide range of schools.

"The teachers we spoke to were really keen, despite the Stewart report,"

she said. "They do have issues about mobile phones, but more about the risk of jealousy - the exclusion of pupils who don't have the latest, flashiest phones."

The Department for Education and Skills said mobile phone use in schools was a matter for head, but endorsed the Stewart report guidance. A spokesman said: "The chief medical officer recommends that if parents want to avoid their children being subject to any possible risk that might be identified in the future, the way to do so is to exercise their choice not to let their children use mobile phones. Schools may wish to take this advice into account when considering any policies on the use of mobile phones by pupils."

Letters, page 32

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