The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on education has left us reeling. It still has the potential of escalating into a massive crisis if decisions are not made right. According to WorldBank.org, the COVID-19 pandemic has as of March 28, 2020 caused more than 1.6 billion children and youth to be out of school in 161 countries. This is close to 80% of the world’s enrolled students. UNESCO Director-General, Madam Audrey stated recently that “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education”. The closure of schools in Ghana has affected millions of students at the various levels of education.
To reduce the negative impact of the pandemic on education, the education ministry and institutions have resorted to online learning and TV broadcasting to keep students engaged and sustain academic activities. Free online library services, online learning platforms (icampus.com) and virtual learning are examples of means provided. These however come with enormous challenges because of the disparity in digital access among students and also the age old problem with electricity supply.
In Ghana, there are few internet cafes with quiet environment for learners to access online learning hence the best option is through PCs, mobile phones and other mobile devices. Most high school learners therefore resort to mobile phones as easier way to access online learning materials.
Talk of high school learners using mobile phones to access online learning brings in mind a persisting argument between the classical conservatives and the contemporary liberals; “should learners be allowed to use cell phones in Senior High Schools as technology integration?” If creating a successful learning environment for learners to develop intellectual stimulation and critical thinking skills are part of educational goals, then integration of technology is a road we will have to cross more often than not.
A mobile or cell phone is a mobile or portable telephone that can make and receive calls over a radio frequency link. Cell phones allow users to call, text, e-mail, video conference, interact on social-networks, surf the internet, watch and share videos and pictures, play games, and utilize a tremendous array of software driven applications. In contrast to traditional computers, the mobile nature of cell phone allows these services to be accessed almost anywhere and at any time.
If properly managed, cell phones can be used as tools to help learners learn in the senior high schools. The following are some of the pros of allowing cell phones to be used in school:
Using Educational Learning apps
There are plethora of learning applications that can assist students in their learning, complete assignments and stay on top of their class work (e.g. of learning apps are; Elevate, Reach, Best Brain, Fedena school management app etc.). These applications can facilitate grasping of concepts as some provide animated visuals about topics. Some are also designed to help learners develop better learning habits, planning after-school work and other activities. Dictionaries for all subjects and in different languages can also be downloaded which come in handy. Most schools do not have adequate computers, but there are tonnes of brain games and educational apps on cell phones that can be used with enormous benefits.
Providing Easy Access to More Information on the Internet
Mobile devices come with internet which gives students access to more information on various subjects and allow them to research more on topics when having peer discussions. Learning and school management systems are now being created with the intent of making education simpler than before. These technological systems are available only on the internet. Learners can have all the information they need at their fingertips; they can read about current events and findings not yet captured in textbooks provided by schools. With internet connection, learners do not have to wait for the next lesson before asking a teacher about a word or statement they did not understand while studying as they can easily search on their phones.
Making Communication Easier
Mobile phones provide easy way to communicate with parents, teachers and fellow students regarding studies and other important issues. Cell phones have inbuilt messaging systems and this makes it really easy to send and receive messages. Communication done on these platforms can be retrieved for future reference.
Students can also clear their doubts and get answers to questions that they were not bold to ask in class as a result of the fear of being mocked by their classmates for asking those questions. Students can also call for assistance in case of danger or medical emergencies in the night. They do not have to shout on top of their voices for help which might be ignored or not be heard by house parents. Even by the time they are heard, the worst might have happened. With mobile phones, they can easily and quickly call for help in times of emergency.
Supplementing Lessons with Digital Materials
Teachers can through cell phones provide students with resources that can help them get better understanding of a topic. This can include pictures, audios and videos that students can watch to have advanced knowledge of a topic before they come to class. By these resources, learners can learn on their own at a pace comfortable to them. This can help students develop their digital citizenship skills, collaboration and creativity to better succeed in the global economy. Classes can be recorded and shared on WhatsApp platforms for students who miss classes for health reasons.
Uploading Assignments and Creation of Discussion forum
Students can get latest information on new assignments being created by the teacher. These assignments can be completed while in their dormitories, during weekends and vacations and then uploaded on platforms where teachers can assess them and provide instant feedback. The efficiency of this process and the speed at which it can happen are really useful for the development of students.
It is important in your development as a student to be aware of what is happening around and share your thought with other students. Mobile phone makes discussions and brainstorming possible with their inbuilt discussion services. Forums on various topics of importance can be created by teachers and students can always come in and provide their views. By this, they can learn new things from the quality of discussions which will broaden their horizons.
The use of mobile phone on other hand can have pernicious influence on students’ learning if they abuse them. Some of these are watching pornographic or inappropriate materials, spending hours on social media platforms instead of learning, recording and sharing of illicit videos, spending money on data, learners can become anti-social and cyberbullying.
Despite the above-mentioned shortcomings, it is significant to note that educators are now working with students whose lives have been immersed in the 21st century media culture. We now exist in an increasingly diverse, globalized, and technology focused society. Educators must come to terms with the fact that the typical student that is born into today’s society is quite different than their parents, especially as a learner. Learners are different now and the divide is a digital one. Knowing this pushes, not only for a crucial restructuring of how teachers teach and the TLMs they use to ensure they are realistically meeting students where they are, but also to appeal to these students' new and creative learning styles with technology.
The world has far advanced in technological revolution with the advent of 5G network and nanotechnology. This technological revolution is not just for the enhancement of everyday life, but in the education field as well. There is the need to re-evaluate our old ideology of complete ban on the use of mobile phones in senior high schools looking at these advancements around us. Instead of making it forbidden, we should leverage the use of these technological devices to enhance teaching and learning.
There are lessons that can be better understood when students are allowed to research using their phones. If our government think students can use laptops to enhance teaching and learning for which reason “one laptop per child” was rolled out between 2009 and 2012, why can’t we do the same with mobile phones?
The teacher is not ‘pan sofia’ and not all current information is in textbooks. If we can have textbooks, learning apps and past questions on phones, we can tremendously increase access to teaching and learning resources that schools do not have. Students are growing up in a different world; a world of ubiquitous technology and these technological devices can and will provide unlimited possibilities for exciting new discoveries and developments in teaching and learning.
I am not advocating for uncontrolled use of mobile phones in senior high schools. I am a teacher and having taught for some time, I understand the challenges that unproductive use of phones poses to students. It can waste their time; a lot of money is spent on mobile data and it exposes them to unnecessary social media information. However, we should separate the wheat from the chaff; educators should think of how to maximize the positives while restricting the negatives than portraying the whole thing as an absolute threat to student success. Mobile phones if well controlled can greatly enhance teaching and learning.
Students are being trained to compete in a digitalised world where they are going to compete and work with technology in their daily lives. Should the school not give them the foundations for the competitive world like their contemporaries in other countries? Isn’t education supposed to holistically prepare the student for the technological world of today? Technology is a world that our students are living with, and nurturing that environment will help lead to a more efficient learning outcomes.
It is imperative to place restrictions to control the use of mobile phones which is far better than teachers intentionally going in search of phones from students’ belongings in dormitories to destroy them. This has led to unfortunate cases of student riots and damaging of school properties in some senior high schools. It is sad to hear of students resorting to this unacceptable way of drumming home their plight, but it is a subtle signal of a revolution that can sweep the country if measures are not put in place.
The moral argument is that students will use phones negatively (watching porn, spending hours on social media platforms) and not for academic purposes. These are indications of failure in upbringing and a societal problem of which almost everyone is guilty. We are in a challenging moment in human development where we have incredible abilities but limited self-restraint. We have all as adults used our phones in an unproductive way, whether in church while a preacher is preaching, as teachers in class, as health workers or civil servants at the point of duty or as tertiary students. Everyone directly or indirectly is guilty of the abuse or misuse of mobile phones and it should not only be limited to students. So should we ban all these workers from using mobile phones completely? Despite the abuse or misuse, we cannot deny the vast world of opportunities we have hard through mobile phones. It has made our lives faster, easier and productive.
ICT is now a core subject in SHS, the productive use of mobile phones and the effects of abusing its use must be included in ICT curriculum. How to access online learning websites can also be taught in ICT class. We can eradicate that fear of students abusing cell phones by implementing reasonable restrictions to increase productivity. This can be done just as we teach our students about premarital sex and its consequences in mixed-sex schools to control it occurrence.
Even with our current stance on mobile phones, has schools really stopped students from using mobile phones? As hard as we have tried, the reality is, there are a lot of students in senior high schools who use phones in school; the funny aspect is that some teachers are the custodian of these phones. We are only putting students in a situation where they can use phones but they should make sure they are not caught.
We should leverage on the revelations this COVID-19 has given us about online learning. Some of the uncompromising stance against use of mobile phones has to be soften. There are countries who have integrated mobile phone use in high schools and it has not collapsed their educational system. An example is Uganda, and we can learn from them. This take responsibility, dialogue with all stakeholders and coming out with an efficient plan that works best in our setting. We should create policies that both embrace the reality and function of these devices in our world, yet allow students to focus on the core academic work. A 2013 survey of high schools in Birmingham, Leicester, London and Manchester found that “schools with restricted access to mobile phones subsequently experience an improvement in test scores”.
Schools are the best place to teach students how to conduct and comport themselves and if schools with parental support cannot teach students the right use of mobile phones then which institution can? Students should be taught that the usefulness of mobile phones goes beyond calling and using social media. We can explore and recognize the opportunities and positive impact mobile phones can have for teaching and learning. More research should be done on the effective use of mobile phones to maximise educational outcomes.
There is currently a whole academic field called “m-learning” where researchers are exploring the learning advantages of using mobile devices like mobile phones in lessons. We can direct efforts toward supporting students to learn how to use technology responsibly through cyber-safety lessons.
There is a technological tidal wave that we can choose to swim with, leading to positive educational outcomes or risk being overwhelmed by the surging force of the wave. Technology and use of mobile phones has come to stay, we cannot forever suppress students interest especially in the world we now live in. Trying to do that is an exercise in futility.
There is a definite need for a thorough reformation of the education system and genuine efforts to learn how best we can really reach our students through technology.
This is no easy task to accomplish; it comes with challenges and requires not only teachers in schools but also the handlers of education at national level to find a way to successfully integrate mobile phones (with restrictions) in senior high school. As good as this transformation can be, it also poses a tremendous challenge to educators to review their basic tenets they have held for years and to restructure schooling to respond constructively and progressively to the technological and social changes that we are now experiencing. The media can also be engaged in creative and productive ways to sensitize students on the pros and cons of mobile phone usage.
It is difficult to change when you have held on to a belief for a long time. However, our educational leadership can take advantage of this period to effect the needed changes so that in times like this pandemic, we can also comfortably switch to online learning to deliver education to our students.