A Namibian, who presumably lives in Uganda, posted an opinion after attending a Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) meeting.
He was disappointed that mobile phones and personal laptop computers were banned in schools and found it strange that the ministry of Education had not suggested ways in which students can benefit from such ICT opportunities.
Two particular comments caught my eye! One of them was from a friend who earns a living as an IT specialist.
Indeed, his work includes selling computer hardware and software solutions to schools. He surprisingly agreed with a previous response that promoted the view that phones are a privilege not suitable for secondary school students.
The arguments against students owning mobile phones or laptops presented on this online chat are not dissimilar to what is out there!
It is alleged that phones and laptops worsen students’ discipline. Students are more likely to spend time watching movies, listening to music or watching movies rather than studying hard to pass exams.
Another view was that only 30 per cent of students with phones would put them to good use – perhaps for research. For the rest, 70 or even 80 per cent, these gadgets are an unnecessary distraction.
More frightening reasons and examples abound in the Western world. Most notable is online bullying, where teenagers post derogatory comments on and or photos of peers on the Internet that has a worldwide coverage. It is said that paedophiles and other adult predators access teenagers using online social media.
Using such negatives is the wrong way to argue about the use of phones or laptops by students in school. Three things should be considered first before looking at educational values. How many phone handsets and laptops do we have in Uganda? How many are owned by students? It is possible that students around Kampala and Wakiso area have the most phones.
Secondly, the ministry of Education has decreed that all A-level students must study either mathematics or ICT as a supplementary subject. In my opinion, this was a wise decision though the government is silent on how schools can procure computers and ICT teachers.
Thirdly, I am yet to see a private school advert or a government school brochure that does not feature a computer library! So, despite personal inhibitions and public pronouncements, it seems that there is a general belief that computers are good for academic progress.
Today, most new mobile phones are also mobile computers. Indeed, very few young people use their handsets for phone calls – it is the computer-like features that are sought after!
We need to apply some more thinking about the purpose of education in Uganda. Thankfully, fewer people today think that schools should be like prisons. However, the prison mentality still lingers and many adults, especially the elderly, find it absurd that students should be happy in school.
For them, schooling means restriction! Girls should not have grown hair, uniforms must be drastically unfashionable, school visits are forbidden and so on. I have also been told about some schools that demand that parents, the fee payers, must dress in a certain way when visiting. This line of thought promotes conformity, not creativity.
The other popular view is that schools are about examinations results. So parents of children as young as six years in P1 will proudly tell you about how their child was first in class but they may not know that child’s reading age or the books read in class.
Yet Uganda’s Vision 2040 is ambitious and President Museveni asserts that we are on track to become a middle-income economy in 20 years. If your children are ‘dulled’ and taught to conform right from the time they are inquisitive, then the future is dark!
How can we achieve anything if we are afraid to teach our students how to get the best out of their phone handsets and laptops? And teach them we must because their adult role models are quite poor in the way they use smart phones.
A big chunk of my friends with smart phones wait for the 7pm news for breaking stories and can only access emails via their office desktop computers. Their expensive handsets are mostly engaged for jokes via WhatsApp and other applications (apps) designed by youngsters in the Western world who were allowed to have phones and laptops when they went to school.
The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers.