Cellular phones in schools Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
March 15, 2007

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LAST week, Minister of Education Shaik Baksh announced that the use of cell phones would be banned in schools.

The public's reaction has been varied but with most people supportive of the ban. One letter writer in yesterday's issue of this paper was of the opinion that not only the use of cell phones in schools should be banned but the possession as well.

"Cell phones can create havoc in the school environment," wrote regular letter writer, Leon James Suseran, "Students can text message each other in class, cheat in tests, taking and sharing illegal digital photos and videos of other students. The increased presence of the instruments in schools would also encourage stealing, not to mention fighting."

While the creation of "havoc" is coming on a bit strong for the potentially disruptive effects of cell phones, he raises some serious questions about the use of cell phones for various negative uses. Recently in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago - currently experiencing its own cell phone marketing war the issue came up of high school students using their cell phones to film various sexual acts. According to one newspaper report, one video even found its way on the popular video hosting website, Youtube.com.

One image currently being shared around via Bluetooth transmission consists of two school-aged boys sitting in what appears to be a locker room with a recent hit dancehall song being played in the background. A third boy enters the room and suddenly and quite violently slaps one of the seated boys clear off his chair. That is the sort of violence which induces copycat incidents just for the pure voyeuristic spectacle of it, particularly among adolescents.

The strongest argument for the complete ban of the cell phones in schools comes not out of their use as communication devices the issue which prompted the ban in the first place but out of their potential as storage devices. A mid-priced cell phone today can act as voice recorder, notepad and calculator in one. Additionally, most of them are browser-enabled and can access the Internet through GT&T's currently free web-browsing service.

A cautious and resourceful student can quite possibly do research online during a test, or simply access notes stored in their personal e-mail accounts. Add the fact that cell phones are becoming smaller and slimmer with some models virtually undetectable short of a strip search, and you have a dangerous situation regarding cheating at exams.

At the end of the day, however, it can be argued that technology does not really change human behaviour over the short term it merely enhances it or reflects it. If students steal cell phones and fight over them, it simply means that there is a culture of theft and violence in schools which needs addressing.

For every sexual act recorded on a cell phone, there are dozens more not being recorded but nevertheless still taking place. When the annual CXC cheating scandals erupted a few years ago, cell phones played no significant role in the dissemination of the exam papers.

And, on a lighter note, if students send each other text messages today, it is simply a modern version of passing notes.