Public schools heads want guidelines on cell phones By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
June 24, 2002

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Heads of public secondary schools feel the Ministry of Education should issue guidelines on the use of cellular telephones, which are becoming a distraction in some schools.

And in response, Education Minister Dr Henry Jeffrey said on this week’s GINA television production ‘Answers’ that using cellular phones in schools was an issue the ministry would have to institute a policy on. He was not aware that the use of cellular phones in the school was currently an issue.

Some public and private schools do not allow students to have cellular phones, while others do. In some cases there are clear guidelines. Queen’s College, for instance, has issued guidelines to students, parents and guardians. Other schools, however, such as the privately-managed Mae’s Schools and Marian Academy do not allow cellular phones on the premises.

Most parents and guardians with whom Stabroek News spoke said that there should be clear guidelines and children should be educated as to the use of the cellular phones so that they do not abuse the service. They also feel that cell phones should be allowed in schools but not turned on during classes. They further feel that they could be used during the break.

A few parents were of the view that cell phones should be banned from schools as they would be a distraction whether in use in or out of the classroom. Others feel that it should only be allowed in the upper forms.

Some parents felt that students from affluent backgrounds "to show off" would use the cellular phones and the instruments could become status symbols and fuel a desire by others to have them.

At QC, according to Principal Wendel Roberts the school took the decision to issue its own guidelines so as not to allow the situation to get out of hand as students were taking cellular phones to school. Also, she said, there were no clear guidelines from the ministry.

Last October, she said, guidelines were sent to the parents and guardians of children attending the school by way of a letter signed by the headmistress. The letter in part, said, “Generally speaking, the school does not approve of students having these phones in school since they could be distracting and their use could be abused.

“However, if a parent so desires that his/her child should have a cellular phone in school, then ... parents must:

(1) submit a written request to the principal stating reasons why the child must have the phone, descriptive features of the phone, the number of the phone;

(2) instruct the child that the telephone must not be used during classroom times, even if the student has a free period (the phone must thus be turned off during classroom times);

(3) remind the child that the greatest discretion should be exercised in the use of the phone;

We seek your cooperation in this matter as we all aspire towards a disciplined school environment."

The most common reason given for children requiring the cellular phones, she said, was for them to be picked up after lessons.

At the Bishops’ High School students are not allowed to have cell phones in school but if it becomes necessary a waiver is considered, Headmistress Maureen Massiah told Stabroek News. She said that at present children had all kinds of reasons why they must have a cellular phone and the school was left to make its own decision in the absence of any policy on the issue from the ministry.

Mae’s Managing Director, Mayfield French, told Stabroek News that cell phones were considered a distraction and were not allowed at the school. The same was said for Marian Academy and School of the Nations. The private schools all have telephones and students are allowed to use them in emergencies. At Marian Academy there are pay phones in the auditorium and children make calls from those phones. In addition, the office phones are available in emergencies.

If students are found using cellular phones at Marian Academy and Mae’s the telephones are confiscated and parents are asked to collect them.

At St John’s College, a staff meeting was held on the issue and it was agreed that neither staff nor students should have cellular phones in the classrooms. The headmistress there said that there were students who took cellular phones to school, but there was never any case where a student was found using one.

However, she, too, said it would be easier on schools if the ministry puts out its policy on cellular phones.

Cellular phones were also found on students in the primary schools but on a smaller scale. Parents have been asked to desist from giving their children cellular phones in the event that they lose them.

Students at most schools told Stabroek News that regardless of the rules, they used cellular phones in school and the most popular place to use them was in the washrooms. In Trinidad and Tobago, steps are being taken to ban cell phones in schools after the situation reportedly got out of hand.