Peninsula Perspectives: Tech Talk

Smartphones at School?


During a recent chat with my 14-year-old niece, I was surprised to learn that she takes her phone to school every day. Not only that, but she uses it while she’s in class, with no repercussions. I suspected as much since the two of us are part of a Wordle text thread where we share our Wordle scores every day, and her scores often arrive during school hours.

I like to think of myself as someone who’s young and hip, but back when I was in school, we got into trouble for passing paper notes back and forth during class. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for students today. To have a personal computer in your pocket that gives you nonstop instant access to your friends, social media, videos, the news, and whatever else is out there, all throughout the school day. (Wait, do young people still use the word “hip?”)

As with most topics in the public arena, people are divided about whether or not smartphones should be allowed in schools. Good reasons back each stance. But the single biggest factor, in my opinion, is that cell phones have become a fixture in modern life for all of us, including students. Most of us are within a few feet of our cell phones at all times. Think about how you feel when you misplace your phone, your battery dies, or worse yet, it’s broken. I don’t know about you, but at this point, my phone is like an extension of myself; without it, I feel a little lost (sometimes I’m literally lost).

There are benefits to having phones at school. They give students instant access to information. They allow for quick research that can enhance the learning experience and empower students to deepen their understanding, explore different perspectives and stay up to date on current events. Many educational apps and online platforms offer interactive learning experiences that can supplement classroom instruction. Phones also enable seamless communication and collaboration between students, teachers and parents. And they come with built-in productivity tools that can help students stay organized.

For safety and peace of mind, some parents insist that their children always have access to their cell phones. And it’s hard to blame them, with the number of school shootings and other frightening incidents that regularly occur on school campuses across the country.

But there are downsides to having phones at school. One of the biggest is distracted learning. The temptation to engage in social media, play games or browse unrelated content can divert a student’s attention and decrease focus leading to poor learning experiences. And there’s the possibility of physical and mental health effects. Online anonymity and accessibility can expose students to psychological pressure such as cyberbullying, harassment and inappropriate content. And the digital divide can create disparities among students with some benefitting from smartphones while others are left behind.

Some tactics for harnessing the benefits of smartphones in school while also reducing the drawbacks include establishing clear usage guidelines, implementing parental or other controls, and outlining acceptable usage during class hours. (Some people have made compelling arguments for preventing students, particularly younger students, from accessing their phones during the school day.)

Some families and schools already benefit from digital literacy programs that educate students about online safety and responsible cell phone usage. They typically include topics such as digital etiquette, safe interactions, and psychological well-being. Implementing these kinds of programs widely could be incredibly beneficial.

Because smartphones have become such an integral part of our lives, I think it makes sense to teach students how to use them responsibly inside and outside the classroom. I also think it makes sense to design programs that help teachers incorporate them into learning when appropriate. Smartphones aren’t going away. Parents want their kids to have them, and kids love them. No one has all the answers yet. And opinions vary widely. Clear guidelines and learning opportunities would go a long way toward helping schools strike a balance.

April Godwin is an IT specialist. She lives in Lakebay.