Dubai: Following a government ban on mobile phones in schools in France, schools in the UAE have explained their stand on the issue, with most educators not in favour of students bringing phones to class.
Private schools here are free to set their own rules on mobile phone use by students. Most schools have a total ban on student phones and confiscate the devices if found; others allow them under certain conditions.
Last week, as the new school term started, a new law went into effect in France banning children’s phones from all state middle schools.
On Sunday, Brendon Fulton, principal of Dubai British School, said it makes sense to keep phones out of class.
“Following considerable research in the area, we are 100 per cent convinced that this is the right move. Studies show that just having a mobile phone out on the desk whilst working can cause enough distraction to disrupt meaningful learning,” he said in a statement.
“As the school also has a BYOD [Bring Your Own Device] policy, the students have no academic need for their mobile phones. We also strongly believe that students should be interacting with their peers during break times, rather than engaged with technology.”
BYOD is a common practice in many schools where students are asked to bring their laptops or other devices for a particular lesson or test.
Fulton conceded that there had been some reservations regarding the ban, but the move is paying dividends. “Although many students were initially resistant to the move to ban mobile phone use, we have had no lingering discontent, and parents have been very supportive of the move. Student engagement has improved steadily. Some students have spoken openly about how liberating it is to not worry about social media during the school day,” he said.
Professor M. Abu Bakr, principal of Scholars Indian School in Ras Al Khaimah, said students at the school have to notify the reception that they are carrying a phone, and that too with a written consent from parents.
“The reception keeps the phone till the end of school hours. After school hours, it is the student’s responsibility to use the phone. If we find the student has not notified the reception or the class teacher, we confiscate the phone and inform the parent,” Abu Bakr said.
“Our main concern with mobile phones is that students can use them to exchange messages discreetly with strangers without their parents’ consent or school’s knowledge. We don’t want our students doing that. Sometimes a stranger, somehow, can get the student’s number and try to contact him or her,” he added.
Abu Bakr also said phones were “a distraction” at school. He pointed out that the school has a BYOD programme that allows students to use laptops to take certain exams or lessons.
Mobile phones are also banned at Credence High School in Dubai. Deepika Thapar Singh, principal of the CBSE-curriculum school in Al Khail, said “CBSE clearly says no to mobiles”.
She added: “But at the same time, you have to stay with technology and empower children to use it. We have a BYOD policy where larger, more visible devices like laptops and tabs allow students to do their research online and learn independently — over a secure, safe Wi-Fi network dedicated for authorised student use.”
Singh said though she believes mobile phones “don’t add to the learning journey”, it was “also almost important to tell students why” they were stopped from using phones on school grounds.
“They are a generation which has learned to ask ‘why’, and that is a good life-skill to have. Once you explain the reasons to them, they agree with us.”
In Sharjah, Rafia Zafar Ali, principal of Leaders Private School, said: “We don’t allow mobile phones. If you let students bring phones, but then tell them, ‘don’t chat, don’t play games’, they don’t like it; they feel suffocated. So it’s better not to have phones in school in the first place.”
However, mobile phones do have a place in the classroom, said Brendan Law, Vice President-Education, GEMS Education.
Speaking on behalf of the British Premium Cluster of 14 schools he leads across the MENASA region, Law said: “It is important that schools take a stance in the best interests of the students, and in our group of schools, the principals and their teams decide on the best policy as such. For some, this might mean limiting access to mobiles during school hours, with the use of other devices such as laptops and tablets for BYOD access to the internet and for research.”
He added: “For others, mobile phones are readily used as an integral part of the curriculum in a number of creative ways. All our schools embrace technology and the latest tools of innovation in education: mobile phones are just one way in which learning can be enhanced by technology, with school leaders being best placed to decide specific ways in which mobile phones and other devices should be used in their schools.”
Box: School mobile phone ban ‘not best solution’
An education expert has said banning students’ mobile phones at school is not the answer to student engagement problems.
Saki L. Milton, US Schools Portfolio Manager, Pearson Middle East, said: “I understand the decision to make kids engage more with each other face-to-face, hence the banning of technology during the school-day. As a former classroom teacher and through running a STEM summer camp for girls, I agree with my own observations of watching kids today sit next to each other during a break, yet choose to glare intensely at their phones rather talk with those around them. However, I could say the same is true for adults in the workplace, or even families dining out. Truth is, we have all observed the lack of human interaction as a result of technology devices.”
Instead of a ban, she added, adults should lead by example and schools should set clear policies in place to regulate mobile phone use.
“I do not think banning students’ technologies in schools is the right, nor best, solution. Instead, I think schools and their communities should do a better job at teaching students the appropriate use of technology — where, when, and why. Digital citizenship can only be learned if adults lead the way by setting expectations, rewarding students’ appropriate use, and enforcing consequences for those who fail to comply. I’ve taught at schools deemed BYOT [Bring Your Own Technology], and this can be tremendously beneficial for schools with limited budgets.”
Milton said: “For teachers, I’ve seen great uses of social media such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter for updating students and parents with class or curriculum changes. Schools along with parent and student parent representatives must create a policy that can be scaled up or down across grade levels, and those policies should be included within the student/parent handbook.”