Five years ago, the former hard-talking, bespectacled State Minister in-charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Dr. Mathias Harebamungu; dramatically confiscated over 20 mobile phones from students of Groupe Scolaire Zaza in Ngoma District and destroyed them using a hoe. His reason was simple; what is a high school student doing with a mobile phone at school in the first place?
Fast-forward to 2015, his successor Olivier Rwamukwaya recently raised eyebrows when he said schools should find ways of letting students keep phones while at school.
As concerned parents and teachers were still trying to understand his statement, a press release followed instructing Parents Teachers Associations (PTAs) to revise internal rules and regulations on the appropriate use and possession of mobile phones in school.
Soon, there was a debate on whether it is the right move considering how phones can be a big distraction not only to students but even adults. Some people wonder whether this move is to help increase students’ academic standards or if there’s a necessity that requires the use of mobile phones at school.
Do mobile phones contribute to the learning process?
Charles Nizeye, a teacher at Groupe Scolaire Catholique de Butare says that putting mobile phones in the hands of students while at school will only reduce on their learning time.
“We have caught students with mobile phones before and we have seen what they use them for. There’s nothing like research, no! Mostly it’s Facebook, WhatsApp, text messages or browsing pornography,” he says.
Nizeye’s worry is the distraction that comes with mobile phones and how students do not use them for important things such as learning or conducting research.
“We are still trying to improve the quality of learning and we think if we give students the right to use mobile phones at school, we’ll be compromising on the quality of education,” he said adding that, “Students have enough time at home with their parents and they can use that time to access phones but school time is learning time.”
Nizeye also argues that much as they might carry some benefits, the cost of controlling their usage and avoiding their abuse is very high.
“It presents distractions for these young minds and we can’t expect them to be responsible enough to put them aside and concentrate on studies. I think it is a decision that needs to be thought through with all stake holders involved and implemented progressively without compromising on the behaviors and learning of students,” he concluded.
Nizeye’s sentiments are shared by Patricia Atukunda, the Head of department in charge of languages at Riviera High School.
She says that schools have principles that guide them and they must always be adhered to and allowing students to use mobile phones contravenes most of these.
“Students already have internet and laptops, so mobile phones aren’t necessary. Phones are a serious distraction and yet measures to control their usage are limited and even complicated,” she says.
Do students think phones can boost their learning?
It is understandable how difficult it is to escape the technology bug. However, some students prefer the use of laptops to mobile phones. One such student is Linda Muhoza, a student at Nu Vision High School who believes that laptops do a better job of enhancing the learning process than phones.
“Much as I would like to have my phone with me at school, I think laptops do a better job in facilitating the use of technology through learning and encouraging research. I have the opportunity of using a laptop at school and I am less distracted, my teachers can control what I do as opposed to having a smart phone in my hands,” she noted.
Muhoza adds that laptops are easier to use and have more features that help in learning than mobile phones.
While Muhoza prefers laptops to phones; Damien Gahitira thinks we are in an era of carrying a portable classroom on a hand-held device.
Gahitira, a senior six student from King David Academy says the 21st century has more opportunities to bring to learning especially using technology.
“We are in an era where learning must be made more fun to encourage students. The youth today are already well acquainted with mobile phones so why not encourage learning by use of mobile phones. It might not be feasible at the moment but innovations are moving very fast and I think we are heading to a mobile based society and its best we get ready for it,” he said.
He also says that smart phones are like computers but just more portable. They have a lot of features that facilitate people in their daily life.
“Being at school isn’t about studying and passing exams. It’s about living and mobile phones today have apps that help with personal expenses, health and exercise apps as well as books that we don’t access in school,” Gahitira concluded.
Would you let your child have a phone in school?
Marie-Rose Ngarambe is a mother of four, two boys studying in Uganda and two girls studying at St Joseph, Kicukiro.
“It’s very surprising that such a discussion is even on the table. Students have matrons and other responsible elders at school that can help them communicate with parents for anything. What else are the phones for?
Learning? The syllabus isn’t digital at the moment. If they can’t learn from their books and pass, how does the internet come in?” she wondered.
She further explained that for some parents who don’t own a smart phone or even a mobile phone, their children are likely to put pressure on them to get them one.
“What happens to students who can’t afford smart phones? Will there be research for some wealthy students and nothing for the rest who can’t afford it?”
Ngarambe said that as a parent, she was completely against the decision and will not let her children be distracted and in the process hinder their learning process.
Claudette Wibabara couldn’t agree more.
A mother to a 19 year old girl and two young twin boys of 3, Wibabara says that she has had a bad experience so far.
“Talking from experience, it is a bad idea. The day I gave my daughter a phone is the day she stopped getting involved in almost all the activities at home. She is practically on her phone all day; chatting, laughing and talking. I am beginning to think that it’s an addiction. She sleeps very late and in the process she gets up very late. To be honest, the phone has created a distance between us,” she says.
Wibabara thinks the phone contributed highly to how her daughter seems to always be distracted and thinks this will be the same if mobile phones are allowed in schools.
“We have seen the negative impacts of social media to the youth. Smart phones are equal to social media. We don’t want our children in schools to be talking to each other on phone instead of person to person conversations. Interaction will be dead. It has happened to us as adults, let us not take it to our children too,” she argues.
On the other hand, Alexis Maridadi, a father of one girl in SOS Children’s Village International says that parents and teachers may have gone to school when mobile phones were unheard of but that time is over and people should accept the fact that today’s children are tech-savvy.
“The times are different and if our young children grow up learning from their phones, they will not see it as much of a distraction as we see it today but rather a tool for learning among other things,” he notes
He said that students can use their smartphones to look up words, take a photo of an assignment or text themselves a homework reminder while teachers can use countless apps to better connect students with coursework on a platform they are familiar with.
“The use of mobile phones in schools should be looked at as long term way of improving learning, it might take a while but it carries very sweet fruits ahead,” he said.
Technology adoption should be gradual
Moussa Habineza, CEO of Khenz Ltd, an e-ticketing company says technology adoption and integration is good for the economy but should be taken step by step in some sensitive sectors.
“Education is one of the most sensitive sectors of a growing economy as it nurtures our future generation. Any decision that should be made must be well thought through and up until now, we don’t even have the digital version of the education curriculum, so how exactly do phones help in learning?” he wondered.
Habineza goes on to add that there is still a lot of preparatory work that needs to be done by the schools and ministry before a decision to place mobile phones into the hands of students is taken.
Have phones helped students to learn?
Esther (not real name), illegally carried her phone to school during her advanced level education in senior six.
To get in school with it, she had to sneak it in through her shoes but the part of getting it into school wasn’t the hardest. Maintaining the phone was the hard part.
“It was really a burden to me because I was a candidate and I was attached to it. To charge it, I had to pretend I am ironing a lot of clothes then use the socket to charge it. To be able to keep on internet, my cousin would send me airtime every now and then which was literally a burden for my friend and I, all for no good reason,” she adds.
The penalty for being caught with a phone was suspension and coming back with a parent which was a heavy risk. But then, how was Esther benefiting from possessing a phone in school?
“Youths are naturally phone addicts and whenever I was in class, I would only think about the time I would return to the dormitory and reunite with my phone, chat with some friends and see what is online,” she said.
Esther spent more hours on the phone than anything else and she thinks that affected her performance. The illegal possession of a phone saw Esther hide under the bed or spend long hours in the toilet so she can be able to use it.
YOUR VOICE: Is it a good idea to for students to have phones?
Elias Muneza, Employee, Magda Cafe
It’s not a good idea all. We all know that a good lesson is the one delivered in a silent environment which favors the learner to focus; free from any distraction. Now imagine you’re attentively listening to the teacher so as to grasp every word and a phone starts ringing. It is simply a distraction.
Claude Buhiga, Student
The issue is about how and when they can be used. I don’t see any problem with a student carrying a phone as long he/she respects class hours and uses it during recess. Phones are very essential when it comes to easy access to information. They should find a way of regulating them.
Anaclet Karamuka, Discipline Master, Efotec
Phones are very tempting especially when it comes to social networks. As long as students have their phones in their pockets, studies become a second priority. Students need to pay full attention while in class; thus allowing them to carry their phones at school is one way of taking away attention from their academics which is supposed to be their priority at school. It is not right to allow students to bring phones to school.
A phone isn’t a bad idea; what is important is to know when to use it. Students need to be sensitized to use their mobile phones productively, for instance doing research, keeping themselves updated and having healthy and informative interactions with others. It should be prohibited to use phones during class hours; with all this in place, allowing student to have phones would be worth it.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba