Are phones a blessing or curse for students?


A student talks on phone. Research studies suggest that over-use of a cell phone can be disruptive to the learning process. / Francis Byaruhanga

The digital age is here, and with it, the craze to own a smartphone is growing by the day. The one constant in all this is that the trend is non-discriminatory in nature, and as such, students have not been left behind.

On any given day, one will not miss groups of students in Kigali, busy tapping on their gadgets. Most students have been immersed in the social media bonanza and are active subscribers to platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, and Twitter, among others.

Decades back, all students had to do was concentrate on their academics. But today, students’ academic performance is suffering a blow because of the smartphone revolution, some people have argued.

Indeed, Shemsa Umulisa, a second year student at University of Kigali, attests to the addiction that comes with social media, saying she is always active on WhatsApp and receives over 10 phone calls daily.

“I feel I cannot survive without my phone,” she says.

Teachers speak out

Aloys Nsabimana, the headmaster of Ecole Secondaire Apaper in Kacyiru, Kigali, says exposure to phones is not good for young students because the gadgets distract them from their academics.

He says that phones kill the appetite to read academic material because students are busy consuming unimportant non-academic material on social media platforms.

“In most cases when we conduct a phone-check operation among our students, we mainly find sexually suggestive pictures, pornography and loose love-talk messages in their phones. Hardly do we ever find important academic materials in their phones,” he says.

Joachim Kato, an English teacher at Good Harvest Primary in Kigali, says phones do not help much in the education process but instead affect students’ performance.

Kato notes that much as phone usage can be beneficial for academic research, students instead use phones more for fun than academic purposes.

“Schools should enforce stringent policies to prohibit students using their phones in classrooms,” he says.

Psychologists also warn that over usage of phones may not only impact performance in school, but it could trigger consequences which are far reaching and dangerous as far as the social, psychological and physical aspects of students are concerned.

Jean-Damascene Iyamuremye, the director of psychiatric care at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, says overusing the phone could cripple the normal thinking capabilities of students.

“By students overusing the phone, they risk phone obsession. Habits like reading, innovative thinking, creativity and other inventions are low since the brain does not get enough time to meditate,” he says.

He adds that excessive contact of mobile phones with the human body has a negative impact and one could get diseases like brain cancer, skin cancer and other health threats.

“Financially, students spend huge amounts of money on communication instead of investing that money in school requirements,” he adds.

Research findings

A new study on students’ test performance and smartphones found kids who attend schools with smartphone bans did better on tests — even more so if they were struggling academically before the ban was instituted.

Researchers at the London School of Economics gathered test scores from thousands of 16-year-old between 2000 to 2012, studying the effects of cell phone bans on schools. They found that the bans boosted test scores by six per cent. If a child was previously academically under-performing, their scores improved up to 14 per cent.

Dr Richard Murphy, the assistant professor of economics at the University of Texas and co-author of the study, said, “Our conclusion is that unstructured use of phones in schools has a negative impact, mainly for kids at the bottom half of the class. Schools should consider having a policy restricting phone use.