Cell Phones in School: Yes or No? Coming up, 10 rules that will generate debate and discussion

Cell Phones in School: Yes or No? Coming up, 10 rules that will generate debate and discussion

Today's kids, the so-called millenials, have less and less in common with previous generations. One thing in particular differentiates them: the cell phone. Teenagers are no longer used to taking even just a step without a cell phone, which has now become their most trusted friend. Do they need to find a hotel or a soul mate? A road or a shop? No problem! Technology, obviously always of the latest generation, is always there to run to their aid.

And, under the weight of progress, the last remaining fortress also falls: school. In the structures dedicated to the education and formation of the citizens of tomorrow, the idea of bringing and using cell phones at school desks begins to make its way into more countries. And immediately, just like in the stadium, we are divided into two parties: traditionalists and progressives.

The old world, that of traditionalists, shouts at the scandal rebuking authorities and institutions to endorse absurd and uneducated behavior and continuing to argue that young people are less and less sociable and unable to deal with their peers and adults.

Progressives rejoice, arguing that it is unthinkable to close the doors of schools to digital media that can instead act as essential resources.

The use of cell phones in school in varies countries around the world

As always, the truth is never absolute. If it is true that cell phones have opened the doors to other worlds at the expense of the physical one, it is also true that one cannot take into consideration an instrument that offers endless possibilities, even from the educational point of view.

The truth is that perhaps we are not yet ready for digital evolution and that, without any rules and without any method, the risk of undermining the authoritativeness and the role of teachers is very strong.

Meanwhile, in the United States, education and rules are adapting to the proliferation of devices with experimental "digital education" programs that come by means of apps and through specialized programs. In England, "protectionist" programs have made it possible to recover the carelessness generated by cell phones. In German schools the use of cell phones is governed by the regulations adopted by the various institutes, with differences also depending on the regional state. In France, on the other hand, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer introduced a ban on using smartphones at school.

In conclusion, every country has its own customs.

And in Italy?

In Italy, a handbook was recently promoted by the Ministry of Education for the correct use of digital technology at school: rules certainly of common sense. It is a pity that all management is left to the discretion of individual teachers: “The use of devices in the classroom, be they analog or digital, is promoted by the faculty, in the ways and times they consider most appropriate,” stated the Minister Valeria Fedeli, presenting the handbook. And this is probably the part that creates more fear of the handbook.

The 10 Italian rules for smart digital usage at school

1 Every innovation involves changes. Every change must work to improve the learning and well being of students – and more generally of the entire school community.

2 Changes should not be refused, but understood and utilized to achieve their goals. We need to teach how to properly use and integrate devices in everyday teaching, also through their regulation. Prohibiting the use of devices at school is not the solution. In this regard, each school adopts an Acceptable Use Policy (PUA) of digital technologies.

3 The school promotes the structural conditions for the use of digital technologies. It provides, as far as possible, the necessary services and the indispensable connectivity, favoring a responsible use of personal devices (BYOD). Digital technologies are one of the ways to promote school modernization.

4 The school welcomes and promotes digital development in teaching. The presence of digital technologies is a challenge and an opportunity for education and for educational culture. Executives and teachers active in these fields are the engine of innovation. The whole school community must also be involved through training and professional development.

5 Devices must be a means, not an end. It is the education that guides the competent and responsible use of the devices. It is not enough to develop technical skills, but we must support the development of a critical and creative capacity.

6 The use of devices promotes students’ autonomy. There is a gradual transition to learning situations that enhance the spirit of students’ initiative and responsibility. We need to support a conscious digital approach as well as the critical use of information sources, also with the idea of lifelong learning in mind.

7 Technology in teaching is a choice: it is up to teachers to introduce it and use it in the classroom. The use of the devices in the classroom, be they analog or digital, is fostered by the faculty, in the ways and times that they consider most appropriate.

8 Technology transforms learning environments. The possibilities to learn are amplified, whether it be for the attendance of digital and shared environments, or for access to information, and finally thanks to the continuous connection with the class. It is necessary to regulate the ways and times of use and non-use, and also to learn how to recognize and keep the private and public dimensions separate.

9 Reinforce the school community and the educational alliance with families. It is necessary that the educational alliance between school and family extends to issues related to the use of personal devices. Digital technologies must be a practical part of this collaboration. The shared aim is to promote the growth of autonomous and responsible citizens.

10 Educating for digital citizenship is a must-do of the school. To form the future citizens of society means to educate them about responsible participation, of the critical use of technologies, of the awareness and construction of their skills in an increasingly connected world.

The Handbook: between fear and expectations

The document of the Ministry frightens and reassures, depending on the point of view, but what leaves us baffled is that it leaves everything to the discretion of individual teachers, both in terms of ways and time.

The main problem remains the teaching and motivation of the faculty , which today has many difficulties in communicating with its students, for having had totally different experiences than those of the new generation.

Many teachers will completely ignore the innovations of today, confusing the media with the result and discrediting new technologies, without fully comprehending their potential. Others will probably leave the kids to the mercy of the waves of technology, failing to gain any sort of improvement in understanding technology.

Today it is unimaginable to exclude innovations from schools; they are part of us and have affected our lives positively and negatively. These processes, however , cannot be managed by the teacher in charge, but must be supervised, studied, investigated. We need a common and shared digital culture. We need specialized teacher training on topics such as cyberbullying, grooming, and the addiction to technology. You cannot leave everything to the improvisation and critical sensitivity of the individual teacher. We need real and tangible educational models to reference.

And above all, a monitoring of good and bad practices is needed, through an Observatory that filters, tests and evaluate experiences and promotes good practices. Otherwise, we need "teaching teachers," update them. There is no mention of this purpose and aim in the enunciation of general principles, although some of them are of very good sense, and this we must take note of. In Italy there are training credits for modernizing and training faculty on this front. Why not invest on this front?

An excellent example of a modern teacher who is able to dialogue with young people is Italian. We are talking about Professor 2.0, Alessandro D'Avenia, a young passionate teacher, capable of interpreting and involving young people and explaining them prose and poems by Leopardi, Ovidio or Dostoevskij. We had recently talked about Alessandro D'Avenia in his motivation for Dostoevsky's reading.

So is it really so impossible to talk about a new way of education? Is it really so unthinkable to find a balance between traditional and innovative educational models? Let's see in the meantime what will be the first fruits of this Handbook of the Italian Ministry og Public Education.