When slate was first replaced by paper there was a public outcry. Many complained that paper and pencils were too expensive, and that they would ruin children’s writing skills. Sound familiar?
This type of progress within education is not a new dilemma, and has been discussed for generations. But why is technology still a bone of contention? By its nature, it moves on while schools can be notoriously conservative places where little change happens.
When it comes to smartphones in schools, some claim that there is no scientific evidence that technology has improved learning in schools, and I took part in a public debate almost a decade ago where this very question was raised. I answered with a single phrase – ‘special educational needs’. Suddenly the debate was over and my opponent conceded the point.
For many children who have physical or cognitive impairment, technology doesn’t just support learning, it actually enables learning to happen. But this is just one example. I can take you to many schools in the Plymouth area where technology is being used responsibly and creatively to engage children, enhancing, extending and enriching their learning experiences.
Children are using smartphones and tablets to solve maths problems, blogging to develop their creative writing skills, building robots and learning how to code. These are new forms of literacy I didn’t learn in school, but they are transferable skills that will be needed in the future, when our children leave school and enter a world of work that will be significantly different to the one we recognise today.
Many children have a natural affinity with technology. They bring their smartphones into the classroom, and will use them whether schools ban them or not. Teachers are wary of the darker side of mobile phones. They worry about children accessing dangerous content, or using cameras to send each other images they wouldn’t want their parents to see.
Recently there have also been warnings from Ofsted that mobile phones are distracting children from their lessons. These are reasonable concerns. Children are easily distracted by texting when they should be paying attention in class, but to completely ban smartphones in schools is short-sighted, and ignores a fundamental truth of our present society. Like it or not, we are surrounded by technology, and it isn’t going away.
Technology is neutral until you use it for a specific purpose. Tools can be used for good or for bad. We shouldn’t blame smartphones for the way they are used. Instead it would be wise to harness the power of these tools for learning and teach children to use them responsibly. Children need to be taught from an early age about acceptable use of smartphones, and every school should include digital citizenship in its curriculum. I believe this would go a long way to addressing the problem.