Despite being debatable, there appears to be a thread of agreement among various stakeholders that not far from today, mobile phones will finally find a home in teaching and learning. In this last part, EPHRAIM NYONDO seeks views of students, teachers, researchers and scholars on how best a mobile phone can be used in teaching and learning.
Form Three student at Njamba Secondary School in Blantyre, Wanangwa Nyirenda, thinks it is a waste of time, energy and resources to keep debating the necessity of allowing mobile phones in classrooms for teaching and learning.
Most of us, she begins, have mobile phones at home. In fact, she adds, she gets on the Internet to get answers to most of the assignments her teacher gives her.
“It does not make sense to me to continue restricting a gadget that, every day, is changing how we learn,” says the 14-year-old student.
It is interesting, she explains, that the same teachers who restrict mobile phones at school are the same ones who tell us to use the Internet at home to find answers to assignments.
“I want government to come up with a policy that should, in the first place, recognise use of mobile phones in learning and provide guidelines on how it should be used,” she says.
What Wannangwa advances are views that were passionately shared by six other students at Njamba whom I had a focus group discussion (FGD) with three weeks ago.
They all underlined the need for Malawi to understand that technology is changing, as such, teaching and learning should quickly embrace and utilise it.
However, some like Blessings Chiumia, deputy headteacher at Njamba Day Secondary School feel ‘Malawi still has time’, although the winds of change in favour of a mobile phone in classroom are blowing towards consensus.
So strong are the winds that even revered education scholars are being blown to its dictates.
Recently, in defense of allowing mobile phones in teaching and learning, Dr. Antonie Chigeda, Chancellor College lecturer in Education Philosophy, wondered why “we often find it imperative to ‘control’ people instead of training them to be responsible,”
“I am mean at what point would these learners learn how to act responsibly, by postponing this in school, people leave school and the same behaviours that should have been addressed in schools show up and unfortunately the school is no longer there to control them,” he says.
He recommends that Malawians must think of the long-term impact of mobile phones on learning rather than addressing short-term concerns.
Currently, there is no clear policy guideline on whether or not students should be allowed to use mobile phones in schools.
According to educationist Foster Gondwe, the prohibition is school-based, where schools set rules regulating use of such tools.
But if mobile phones were to be allowed in classrooms, how best can they be used so that they do not disrupt teaching and learning?
During an FGD I had with six students from Njamba Secondary School, it was clear that, although the students were certain of consequences of unregulated use of mobile phones in classrooms, the need for proper mechanism of its use is paramount.
“I would propose that teachers should, like it is the case, control mobile phone use in classrooms the way they do with the use of some textbooks,” says Wanangwa.
She explains: “We can have all our mobile phones assembled somewhere safe, for instance, in the library. When it is time that they are needed, the teacher can, like the case with textbooks, send us to collect them.
“Even during the use, the teacher will have the duty to direct us which websites we should visit. Like it is the case with textbooks, the teacher will have the duty to punish anybody found browsing other websites apart from those concerned with the lesson in session.”
On his part, Sajona Solobala, Wanangwa’s classmate, says to avoid distractions, there is a need for schools to have Internet systems that should block all students’ phones from accessing social networks within the campus.
“This even happens in other workplaces where they ban social networks, pornographic sites and may other irrelevant sites. Schools can also do this so that access to Internet is limited to educational purposes,” he says.
School mobile phone policy
In an article, How mobile phones are disrupting teaching and learning in Africa, researcher Gina Porter makes interesting recommendations that would help proper use of a mobile in classrooms.
For students, Porter says it is important to have a clear school policy on pupil phone use, to inform parents about this and to explain the reasoning behind it.
“If the school has decided to allow pupils to bring their mobile phone to school, but not to use it in school, then pupils could be required to put a name tag on their phone and deposit it with a staff member, using a register, before school begins. In this case parents or careers must be given a phone number for urgent messages,” she writes.
She adds that if the school allows pupils to use mobile phones in class as calculators or to access the Internet, pupils and their parents could sign an “acceptable use” agreement each term. This would promote effective use of class time and pupils’ safety, she writes.
She explains that pupils also need reminders not to publish personal information on the Internet and to tell their teacher, a parent or career if they access any information that worries them.
“Parents must be encouraged to help their child follow the school’s guidelines. Asking them to sign an acceptable use agreement together with their children will help,” she writes.
On teachers, Porter says teachers’ mobile phones should be switched off and left in a safe place during lesson times.
“If teachers are using their phones when pupils are banned from doing so, pupils may become resentful. Staff should not contact pupils from their personal mobile phones or give their mobile phone numbers to pupils or parents. This would help teachers maintain sound professional practice,” she writes.
This conversation, has so far, shown that mobile phones will soon find a home in the classroom. n