A tough call to make

Sunday July 22, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/7/22/education/11688281&sec=education

By KAREN CHAPMAN, TAN EE LOO and KANG SOON CHEN
educate@thestar.com.my

While the use of mobile phones in schools was allowed and later withdrawn some years ago, current feedback from students, teachers and parents has been encouraging although some parties have reservations.

THE ONE thing that Form Five student Marissa Rahman (not her real name) remembers to do when she arrives at school every morning is to switch off her smart phone after her parents drop her off at the school gate.

Then she walks over to keep the phone in a locker, one of many that were built after the ban on mobile phones in Marissa’s school was relaxed two years ago.

Marissa and her schoolmates who bring mobile phones to school, strictly abide by school rules as otherwise their phones will be confiscated.

The students are only allowed to retrieve their phones from the lockers, which are secured by two padlocks and monitored by three CCTV cameras, when school ends each day.

Despite the strict regulations imposed, Marissa believes the rules are fair since the students are allowed to bring their mobile phones to school.

“Having my mobile phone around gives me a sense of security as I can contact my parents easily whenever I have to stay back in school.

“We only have one public phone in the school compound which breaks down all the time and is not calibrated to accept new coins,” says Marissa, who is studying at a government school in the Klang Valley.

The principal of the school says the decision was made after taking into consideration the concerns of parents who worry about the safety of their children.

“The location of the school is in a secluded area and it gives me peace of mind to know that students can use their mobile phones to call for help if anything should happen to them,” says the principal.

The recent announcement by Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong to allow students to carry mobile phones and IT gadgets to school from next year has drawn mixed reaction from stakeholders such as teachers, parents, students and even the school administration.Students would be allowed to bring mobile phones and IT gadgets to school after rules and regulations under the Education Act 1996 were amended, he said.

The move, he said, was in line with the implementation of the virtual teaching and learning programme, dubbed 1Bestari which offered free WiFi services.

Currently, students in government schools are not allowed to carry mobile phones to school.

Stringent guidelines

Dr Wee said the draft of the amendment would be submitted to the Attorney-General’s Chambers wit­hin a week and that “stringent” guidelines on the use of electronic gadgets in school would be enforced to prevent misuse of such technology. School authorities and parents especially are concerned about the abuse of mobile technology and “freedom” given to students during school hours which could lead to issues such as lack of concentration in class, cyber- bullying (filming of school mates) and thefts.

Sri Kuala Lumpur Secondary School (Sri Kuala Lumpur) principal Chew Teck Ann says the move to allow mobile phones in government schools is timely.

“Since some students are going to bring the phones to school with or without permission, it is better that they are allowed to do so openly,” he says.

Sri Kuala Lumpur, a private school in Subang Jaya, has relaxed the ban on mobile phones about seven years ago.

“Mobile phones are so entrenched in the modern lifestyle, it would not be realistic to keep such gadgets away from school in the long run,” says Chew.

The move to enable students to bring mobile phones to school is not new.

In fact, the arguments over students having mobile phones in 2005 are akin to the current situation.

In December 2005, then director-general Datuk Dr Ahamad Sipon issued a circular on the conditional use of mobile phones by students in school, citing the increasing number of students owning mobile phones.

He had said that the Education Ministry did not want to prevent the use of mobile phones in schools but their use by both teachers and students must be controlled so that the teaching and learning process was not disrupted.

The Ministry’s decision to lift the ban on mobile phones in schools caused an uproar at the time.

Barely three weeks later, the circular was revoked based on feedback by then Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.

Nevertheless, some schools, including Marissa’s had later taken their own initiative to enforce strict rules and identify a safe place to keep the mobile devices.

Being responsible

Educators like Chew feel that this is actually an opportunity to instil a sense of responsibility among schoolchildren.

“Allowing mobile phones in schools may bring about a positive change in students as they learn about responsibility and taking ownership of their actions,” says Chew.

“Students must understand that they have to be responsible for their own items and they only have themselves to blame if their phones go missing.”

Nevertheless, he points out that students are not encouraged to bring mobile phones to school and those who do so, are required to switch off their phones during lessons.

Victoria Institution student Felix Culas believes that schools must be absolved of any responsibility over students’ belongings.

“If students want the privilege of bringing mobile phones to school, they should be responsible enough to ensure that their phones are safe and used properly. After all, schools are there for character building,” says Felix, 16.

Many students are thrilled that they will be able to bring mobile phones and IT gadgets from next year but have urged their peers to exercise self-discipline when using the gadgets in schools.

Student Yap Seng Chun, 19, says carrying expensive IT gadgets like smartphones and tablets to schools could lead to other issues.

Some students may not be able to focus in class while there may be others who may resort to stealing such devices.

“We need such gadgets to expand our scope of learning and to call someone during an emergency,” he says. Student Loh Suet Kee, 18, says school-goers must avoid becoming dependent on such gadgets. “Students can use the gadgets when working on group assignments. But they must not abuse it,” she says.

Form Two student Teah Lee Tat, 14, says those learning would benefit from using different sources and approaches including books and gadgets.

“It can be rather dull to study using a book. With a gadget, I could record my teacher’s lecture and save it for revision at home,” he says.

However, teachers and parents are not entirely convinced that students should be allowed to bring mobile phones and IT gadgets to school next year.

A headmaster in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, says it is not realistic to expect schoolchildren to pay full attention in class if the mobile devices are allowed during school hours.

“It is common to see children texting and playing with their phones during meals, even when their parents are with them. So these devices can be a distraction,” he says.

He says teachers, especially, have voiced out strongly against the announcement because students or teachers could end up being victims of cyberbullying.

“With a mobile device, students can film their teachers when they reprimand a student for wrongdoings and later upload the clips online which would subject the teachers to public scrutiny,” he says.

Parent Selina Rogers has voiced her reservations on Facebook.

“As much as I agree on the practicality of carrying handphones, I tend to think about the other consequences. For one, I feel for those parents who can’t afford to get their kids even the most basic of handphones, what more the tablets and such? As for the safety of the kids, wouldn’t such gadgets draw the attention of those who don’t own any? More reason for bullies to strike, right?”

Another parent Beverley Hon believes that schools should dictate the types of phones that students can bring.

“If the phones are going to be of the same model, you minimise the possibility of theft and there’s no worry about keeping up with others. Anything that’s more expensive or ‘fancier’ should be confiscated,” she says.

Note: It was reported that Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said on Thursday that the Education Ministry will consider the opinions of all parties before making a decision on whether students can bring mobile phones and electronic gadgets to school. He said the proposal was at the committee level and had yet to be submitted to him.