Modern mobile phone management in our schools

Taking a selfie together are East Otago High School pupils (from left) Jamie Dodd (17), Breeshyn Witehira (17), Hayley Jenkinson (16) and Nicole Bungard (17). Photo by Linda Robertson.
Taking a selfie together are East Otago High School pupils (from left) Jamie Dodd (17), Breeshyn Witehira (17), Hayley Jenkinson (16) and Nicole Bungard (17). Photo by Linda Robertson.
Cellphones are a well established necessity among teenagers — and even pre-teens. John Lewis takes a look at their use in the school environment.

Me: Hey Sonya ;-D

Sonya: Who dis?

Me: Lol u gave me ur number only 5mins ago!

Sonya: I think she gave you the wrong number. I'm Mark . . . Ouch :(

Moments later, after a few well-placed texts by Mark, everyone at school knows all about the faux pas.

And so the misery of mobile phones begins.

A decade ago, when it came to cellphones in schools, it was a little bit like the Wild West - plenty of law surrounding the new technology, but great difficulty keeping order around it.

Like a six-shooter, a cellphone could be drawn from the hip and used to bully fellow pupils, and occasionally it could cause violence to break out in the school yard.

Since then, the use of digital technology (including cellphones) in Otago classrooms has increased significantly.

But many will be surprised to learn, the level of digital technology misuse by pupils is significantly lower than it was a decade ago.

Why? There are two different schools of thought.

One is, many schools have introduced tighter controls by requiring their pupils to sign an ''electronic devices and network access'' code of conduct contract.

The other is, many schools have introduced a more relaxed/realistic stance to their use.

Among those Otago schools which are quite strict about the use of cellphones in class is Bayfield High School.

Principal Judith Forbes said the school's rules and regulations allowed pupils to bring cellphones to school, but they were not to be used or turned on during class time unless express permission was given by a teacher.

''Sometimes we find it can be really useful for pupils to use their phones to film an experiment, say in chemistry, where they have then got a clip that they can refer to and remember what it was that they did and what changed.

''So there are times, for educational purposes, when a teacher may say you can use your device for this purpose, but they are not allowed to answer calls, be on Facebook or text their friends while in class.''

Mrs Forbes said it was important to enforce the no-cellphones-in-class rule because pupils were meant to be concentrating on their class work.

''Our purpose is education.

''So it's a matter of focus. It's also because some of those other things [inappropriate uses] are directly destructive to learning.

''If you've got kids who are sending texts to one another, it's kind of like the passing of notes thing that would have happened a generation ago - except they can be passing notes to people in different classrooms or different schools.

''That is disrupting the learning in a way that is much more widespread than passing a note along the row.''

She said the school rule could be ''a little difficult'' for some pupils to follow, but on the whole, they were very respectful of it.

She said that, like most schools, if a Bayfield High School pupil was caught using a cellphone in class for the first time, they would be warned and told to put it away.

If they were caught again, the phone would be confiscated and given to the student office.

The pupil could then get it back after school.

However, if it was confiscated a second time, the phone could again be retrieved from the student office - this time with a letter to the pupil's parents.

On the third confiscation, a parent was called to collect the phone.

Most schools had a similar policy, she said.

The rules were not totally draconian. She said pupils were allowed to make calls or text during interval and lunch breaks.

''To ban them from being used at school altogether would be very difficult to police,'' she said.

Primary schools are perhaps the strictest, in terms of policy.

Dunedin's largest primary school, George Street Normal School, is aware of the issues surrounding cellphone use, but principal Rod Galloway believed it was not as big a problem for primary schools because parents generally believed primary-aged children were too young to have cellphones.

''We don't allow children to use cellphones during the school day - not even during breaks.

''Common sense would say cellphones in young children's hands is not what primary schools want, and unless there's an emergency after school, we've got school phones here.''

He said it was a fairly standard policy across most primary schools in Otago.

Kavanagh College appeared to be more relaxed and realistic about the use of cellphones in class.

In fact, deputy principal Steve Read said the school actively encouraged it.

''Some people get confused and ask why on earth would you want students using a cellphone in class.

''But they're not just a cellphone, they're a smartphone, which is really a computer.

''They're on the internet doing their research or reading a novel.''

Some Otago schools only allowed laptops or tablets for this kind of research, to avoid issues with texting during class.

However, Mr Read said it was important for some pupils to be able to use cellphones, because their families could not afford more expensive laptops.

He said when cellphones first appeared on teenagers' radars, it was much harder to control their use at school.

''They were a bit of a novelty and they were excited about being able to text their friends. But that's all sort of worn off now.

''I think it's less of an issue than it was 10 years ago.

''It's just another rule now, like don't go behind the bike sheds and smoke. A handful of kids will still do it, and you just have to deal with them.''

East Otago High School principal Lennox Sharp agreed misuse of digital technology was becoming less prevalent than it was a decade ago.

''This year, we haven't had any cyber-bullying-type incidents reported at all.

''It's been quite good in that regard, because issues can sometimes develop there.

''Compared to three or four years ago, that problem has decreased significantly - whether it's because kids are much more savvy about what they will and won't say online or in texts now, or whether it's just died a natural death, for want of a better word . . .''

He believed it was because school pupils had been flooded with information about the damage that could be done to fellow pupils, by misusing digital technology.

''Certainly there's been a lot of information provided to the kids about how damaging it can be, with suicides etc.''

East Otago High School pupil Jamie Dodd said he only used his phone during breaks or study periods - never during class, because it was too easy to be distracted from his work.

But fellow pupil Hayley Jenkinson said she found it very difficult to leave her phone untouched during class.

''Some teachers don't like it, so we just don't do it.

''But some teachers allow us to listen to music on our phones while we're doing work.

''Sometimes we might scroll through our Facebook page, but we never comment or text during classes.

''It can be a real distraction in classes sometimes. I just have to put it in my pocket and try my hardest not to get it out.''

She said she and fellow pupils received information on cyber-bullying and how to avoid it.

''We've learnt there are just some things that phones shouldn't be used for - at any time, not just at school.

''I've had friends who have been affected by it. We're aware of the hurt it can cause, and that it affects people differently - some worse than others.''

Nicole Bungard said she was very careful not to say anything in a text or on social media that would cause someone to self-harm or commit suicide.

''That would have a massive impact on me. It's horrifying when you realise that what people say can have that sort of impact on other people.''

She said the social media websites that have been known to cause cyber-bullying issues in the past have been blocked on the school's free Wi-Fi internet access, so pupils cannot access the sites from their devices.

If pupils were caught misusing certain sites they could be blocked from using the school's Wi-Fi connection.

In a bid to keep its pupils safe from cyber-bullying, Kavanagh College has made recommendations to parents about cellphone and other technology usage at home.

It suggested all cellphones be kept in a box after 8.30pm, and laptops, phones and tablets should not be available in bedrooms after an agreed time.

Many pupils texted late at night, and if they used social network sites like facebook or tumblr, they were likely to get notifications through the night.

The school recommended parents check their children's social media profile pages and search history.

It was also important to take devices off young people if they were being misused.

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