The issue of whether to or not to allow students to own mobile phones in schools is a debate that has been going on and on. While some individuals continue to support the idea, others are against it.
Earlier this month, Dr Yusuf Nsubuga, the director of basic and secondary education at the Ministry of Education, was quoted in the press as stating that schools should allow students to use information and communication technology (ICT) gadgets, including smart phones in schools, in order to improve learning and teaching. He also went ahead to urge respective schools’ boards of governors to develop rules and regulations so that students do not misuse them. This is not the first time he is making the recommendation.
On September 9, 2013, Daily Monitor published a story in which Dr Nsubuga was quoted as saying there was no government policy that bars students from owning cellular phones at school, especially now that the gadgets are a necessity in everyday life. He added that teachers must appreciate that the world has changed and some rigid school rules of the 1980s and 90s are no longer applicable in this dot com era. He in fact revealed that the Ministry of Education had a draft ICT policy within which they wanted to discuss students carrying phones and other gadgets to school. “It is a matter that we are still discussing, not that it is a policy or recommendation,” he stated.
Samuel Mukisa, 40, a father of two, agrees with Dr Nsubuga, saying: “It will make communication much easier. I will be able to know how my children are doing in school,” Mukisa says. His two sons study at Mbogo Mixed Secondary School located in Wakiso District.
Edwin Musoma, 45, concurs: “I have a 16-year-old son in a boarding secondary school, who normally calls me using his class teacher’s phone. My son has previously told me this teacher demands for money before letting him use his phone,” Musoma says in an irritated tone, adding: “I find such a practice unfair for any child. Sometimes they do not even have the money.”
However, Catherine Nakato, a mother of three, is one of those parents not keen on the idea of students possessing mobile phones in schools.
“I am against it. I would never let my child take a phone to school even if the administrators allowed them,” she says. Nakato reasons that the gadgets carry information and pictures, including pornographic material that easily distract students from their studies. By this, she no doubt refers to the recent rage of videos and nude photographs making round on social media platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp. With Section 13 of the Anti-pornography Act pronouncing it that it is “illegal for a person to produce, traffic, publish any form of pornography” and making the accused liable to a fine of Shs10m or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, this challenge comes to a forefront.
Jean Kyomugisha Nuwagaba, a counseling psychologist at Care Counselling Centre, reasons that training and educating on proper usage of such technology would be essential, as many students are not yet mature enough to have mobile phones.
Deodati Aganyira, the head teacher of St Mary’s College Kisubi (SMACK) puts emphasis on the need for sensitisation before letting student carry the devices to schools. “They should be educated on the dos and don’ts of phone possession,” he opines. However, ironically, Aganyira responds in the negative when asked whether he would permit such a policy in his school, reasoning that students would mismanage their use.
Nonetheless, some schools such as Vienna College Namugongo, have permitted the use of mobile phones on the school premises. Mohammed Kakiika, the school’s headmaster, says the phones are for educational purposes and they help the students research, illustrate, take notes and network at gazetted times. “They help them during mostly challenging and boring tasks,” he says.
On whether students do not misuse them, Kakiika explains that before their use was regulated, students could steal them, receive or send messages during lessons time and if a phone was confiscated in the morning, a more sophisticated one was delivered in the evening by a relative. But now there is a policy in the school that allows students to use the gadgets outside study time and not during class hours.
Currently, some schools have responded to the need to have easy communication between student and parents by installing telephone booths on the school premises. Victoria Kisarale Serunkuuma, the head teacher Gayaza High School, says her students are continuously guided and counselled on the appropriate use of these booths.
“I normally remind my girls that they are the primary recipients of the consequences of their actions. Therefore, they are very particular with the people they communicate with on the outside,” Serunkuuma says, adding: “We cannot always police them.”
Finding a way
Otherwise, Serunkuuma says the school administration is still drafting an appropriate plan with The National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) on how to effectively guide students on the use of ICT products, including laptops and mobile phones.
The statutory mandate of NITA-U is to coordinate, promote and monitor Information Technology (IT) developments in Uganda within the context of National, Social and Economic development.
Seeta High School, Green Campus in Mukono District, also has the telephone booth provisions that students can use to communicate to people outside. The scratch cards students use for calling are provided by MTN personnel, who visit the school from time to time.
During times when the booths are congested, Allan Obbo Warayamo, the school’s head teacher, says students are allowed to write down the piece of information they want to convey on a piece of paper and hand it to a teacher.
“The student hands over the parent’s phone number, and the teacher makes the call on their behalf,” he says.
The school has a policy that bans students from using teacher’s phones. Warayamo goes ahead to affirm that the school hardly gets cases where students are caught with personal phones.
We could still go on and on about this issue of whether phone usage in schools should be allowed or not. But as depicted above, everyone seems to have a different opinion from the parents, teachers and students themselves. Some have mentioned their reasons why schools should consider the idea, while others have come out to oppose it. But all this zeroes down to the question. Are mobile phones simply a necessary evil for students in schools?
What students say
Some of the students Saturday Monitor randomly posed the question to regarding phone possession gave mixed reactions.
Charles Lukabwe, 17, a Senior Four student at Kololo High School, says they should be allowed to carry them to class lessons because they would ease research. “Phone internet would simplify very difficult topics that are taught in class,” he says.
Patricia Nandera, 16, a Senior Three student at the same school, however, thinks otherwise. “They should not be allowed in schools. If they are, students will be calling their boyfriends and girlfriends,” she says.
At their school, phones are considered illegal possessions and if a student is caught with one, it is confiscated and never returned to them.
Some students in other schools are, however, not so lucky. They are expelled once caught red handed with any kind of communication gadget.
Just like in the case of 18-year-old Betty Kibonera. She was expelled during her Senior Five second term last year, after she was caught making a phone call in one of the school toilets during night. Kibonera prefers not to mention the school, though.
“I was reminding my elder sister about the next day’s visitation day when the Senior Lady walked in. I froze upon seeing her. The phone, a Samsung, dropped to the ground and it broke,” she recalls.
Kibonera was then taken to the staffroom where she was told to wait for the head teacher. After showing up, he instructed her to see him in the morning.
“When I went there, I found the Senior Lady as well. I guess she had already told him everything. A few minutes later, I was handed a letter bearing details about my expulsion,” she says.
Her parents, who picked her up, were very bitter that she compromised her education and stay at the school by sneaking in a phone. Kibonera was admitted in another school two weeks later. The phone was a birthday gift from her father, who had on several times cautioned her to only use it during school holidays.