In this third part of mobile phones and education in Malawi’s education, our senior news analyst EPHRAIM NYONDO explores views of educationists, researchers and theorists on the matter.
It is a question without a definite answer.
Most students agree that mobile phones are critical to learning. They want the country’s education policy to accept its importance and legislate it for use in teaching and learning.
Most teachers, however, are skeptical. They are afraid that, at a primary and secondary school level, mobile phones could be more of a curse than a blessing.
They fear that learners will be indisciplined because they will abuse the phone during lessons, in the process, disrupting learning. Yet despite that there is a growing insistence, especially among scholars and researchers, to consider and review public perceptions regarding the use of mobile phones in teaching and learning.
Educationist Cydric Jamu says the topic needs to be analysed from both angles for there are both positives and negatives.
“I will start with negatives. When people discuss the negatives of mobile phones in classrooms, they point to misuse of the phones such as downloading pornographic materials. Many students find this interesting and they spend much of their time on these rather than education. Above that the social networking sites, such as, Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and many more are mostly used for communication on fun and sexual issues,” he says.
However, he adds that “we should not forget that Malawi is part of the global village and that we are faced with an avalanche of information communication and technology (ICT)”.
On other hand, he says, as a developing world “we have a long way to go in meeting the growing demand for ICT in public secondary schools; hence, denying our students the most needed information around the global”.
“Most secondary schools in the country don’t have ICT facilities, but we expect these students to work in the ICT world when they are out of school. This means that the use of cell phones in secondary schools would be the right substitution for computers as far as access to information is concerned,” he notes.
He explains that the fact that “we do not have well stocked libraries in secondary schools means that the mobile phones has a great role to play for both the teacher and student”.
“We should not only show fear by only looking at the negatives of the mobile phones.
“There is a lot that students can benefit apart from pornography and sexual relationships,” he says.
No wonder, he underlines: “we still have teachers in both secondary and primary schools who are even failing to use mobile phones for browsing. Why? They had no access at an earlier stage”.
Andrew Nchessie is a not a secondary school teacher but a teacher trainer at Phalombe Teacher Training College. He says the college does not have internet.
“I let my students during the class use mobile phones only for purposes of seeking information related to a particular concept of the subject I teach when I am sure that the content in the prescribed curriculum is not adequate,” he says.
For efficiency purposes, he adds: “I do a pre-search of the web addresses of the relevant domains or webs and have the addresses ready”.
“While in class, it becomes easy to simply request the students to log on to such websites. Phones are a very important in my teaching. As a testimony, my students, while using the phones discovered that there are four states of matter and not three as our text books prescribe.
“There are some concepts that my students have corrected which are wrongly presented in our text books or that certain topics do not have the basic background information,” he says.
Dr Steve Sharra, a blogger and lecturer at the Catholic University of Malawi (Cunima), also weighs in his experience using mobile phones when teaching university students.
“My experience is with university students undergoing teacher preparation. My course policy allows mobile phones in the classroom, on the condition that they be on silent, and that they be used for course purposes, and in case of emergency.
“I like to have the class on social media, so we created a Whatsapp group, a Google forum, and a Facebook group just for the class.
“No one else is allowed on those forums. I let the forums flow freely, but I regularly post a question or comment for discussion on class-related topics.
I use comments from the online discussions to illustrate points and generate further discussion in class.
“So I require students not only to bring their mobile phones to class but to also use them for course-related discussion. I find that it creates interest and enhances participation. Students feel involved. I do see students veering off into something unrelated, but when I catch them I prod them back to the lesson.
“I understand the concern for students, at all levels, to get distracted and start viewing content unrelated to class, but when the teacher structures the lesson in such a way that the gadgets are part of the education, it minimises the distractions.
“There is an imperative for the teacher preparation programmes in Malawi to start preparing teachers for how to usefully and productively utilise technology in the classroom at all the levels,” he says.
Despite the positives and negatives raised regarding mobile phone use in classrooms, Dr Antonie Chigeda, Chancellor College lecturer in education philosophy, wonders why “we often find it imperative to ‘control’ people instead of training them to be responsible”.
“I 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 when they leave school and unfortunately the school is no longer there to control them,” he says.
“Let us think of long-term rather than addressing short term concerns, he recommends.
Currently, there is no clear policy guideline on whether students should be allowed to use mobile phones in schools or not.
Thus, according to educationist Foster Gondwe, the prohibition is school-based, where schools set rules regulating use of such tools.
“This school-based prohibition at secondary school level is different from the case of colleges where there are no restrictions on use of mobile technology within schools.
“However, to avoid cases of cheating, college students are normally not allowed to enter examination rooms with mobile phones during examinations. It is worth noting that lack of clear policy guidelines on use of mobile technologies in secondary schools is also different from the United Kingdom (UK) where cities have clear policies on use of cell phones,” he says. n