Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Open to abuse

When I was teaching at Anfield, over 14 years ago, it was only the older children who had mobile phones. There was no such thing as a smartphone. The devices were limited to making calls and texting. The fact that they were expensive to buy and cost a lot to use meant that only the better off children had them.

We used to insist that children turned their phones off in class and in fact some teachers took the phones off the children at the start of lessons. I recall an art teacher though who managed to lose a phone which of course the parents claimed was an expensive top-of-the-range model. There was no simple, foolproof way to deal with the problem.

How things have changed. Gone are the innocent days when the only way to send a message in class was to write it on a scrap of paper and get the other pupils to pass it across the room. If you were caught, it was either detention or a stroke of the cane. There was physical evidence that you could not deny.

According to El Pais, almost all of young Spaniards now have their own cellphone. One in three 10-year-olds has a phone while the rate is 78.4% for children aged 13. For children aged 15 and over, that figure is 90%.

Pupils in England taking exams have to surrender their phone as part of the regulations. As my friend Pete says, "you can find yourself  taking care of thousands of pounds worth of almost identical phones for the period of an exam". It is a nightmare that schools could well do without.

There is a more sinister problem though.

At Anfield we had a school wide network with computers in most classrooms. The IT technicians therefore set up a system whereby children could chat to each other but they had to close it down after less than a week. Instead of polite chit chat, the pupils were abusing each other with comments that they would not make face to face.

With widespread use of cellphones though, the school no longer has that sort of control. Children innocently broadcast their phone number to others who then pass the numbers on. Whilst you have to set up a relationship in social media, text messages can be sent to anyone including those you want to abuse.

For this reason,  many Spanish high schools have banned the use of cellphones in class altogether over fears of cyber bullying which is  responsible for one if four cases of bullying in school according to a new study. What the pupils do outside the classroom though is beyond their control.

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