The subject of smartphones in schools has been raised again with calls to ban their use, but one Wagga school has found a way to work with the technology.
Wagga Christian College’s Deputy Principal, Phillip Wilson, said he can see the amazing benefit of technology being used in learning, but is aware of the need to have a screen-away policy.
The school has a policy where phones are allowed onsite but must be switched off and put away.
“We constantly look for ways to prepare students for an increasingly technological world and I have fantastic teachers who will guide them when anything external, including technology and social media, is upsetting them,” he said.
“I have students who will willingly hand in their phones to the office to give them a break from the need to continually update their status.”
Mr Wilson says the school places an emphasis on encouraging senior students ‘to be in the technological world but not a slave to it’.
Ms Jacquie Tinkler, lecturer in educational technology from Wagga’s CSU campus, cautioned against an outright ban of smartphones in schools saying the technology should be used in the appropriate context.
Ms Tinkler said policies on smartphones should depend on the school and how they want to handle the technology.
“I teach my students, who will be future teachers, to organise how they want to deal with those devices and use them to their advantage,” she said.
“This includes setting some boundaries around when and how they’re used.”
Ms Tinkler said she finds even in university she needs to set up her classroom to enable use of the technology as well as ‘down time’.
“I have the ‘screens down’ policy, a strategy that while the students need to be paying attention the screens are down,” she said.
“This is also a trick I encourage my students to apply. If students have smartphones then we should be harnessing the potential they have.”
Earlier in the week a Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg called for a smartphone ban in primary schools ahead of his move to NSW to take a position at the Gonski Institute at the University of New South Wales.
Mr Sahlberg spoke to Fairfax Media in Helsinki and said smartphones were distracting students from reading, school-related work, physical activity, and high-quality sleep.
He believed smartphone-related distraction is one of the main reasons why Australia and similar countries are sliding down international assessment rankings.
"Schools everywhere need to react very quickly to cope with the smartphone issue," he said.
"Smartphones don't belong in primary schools or with young children under 12. For the sake of fairness and equity, [banning them in early years] would be the best thing to do."
The policies for Wagga’s government schools varies, according to the Department of Education.
“Individual public schools develop their own procedures and guidelines, based on the public schools’ BYOD policy, for student use of ‘smart’ devices such as mobile phones and tablets, in consultation with their school community,” a Department of Education spokesperson said.
“These take into account aspects such as digital citizenship, 21st Century learning, students’ communication needs, privacy and public school values including respect responsibility, care and fairness.
“At all public schools inappropriate use of mobile phones and other devices will be subject to disciplinary procedures, including suspension and reporting potentially illegal activities to police and other authorities.”