Some parents, students concerned over proposed cell phone ban in schools
Stabroek News
March 22, 2007

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Education Minister Shaik Baksh's announced plan to ban all cellular phones in schools across the country has raised the concerns of some parents and some students are also unsettled.

Nearly two weeks ago while noting his concern about the upsurge of violence in schools the minister spoke of, "a cell phone culture in the schools", which he is going to ban. Unconfirmed reports the following day said the ban would be enforced for the next school term.

Earlier this week, a senior secondary school student told Stabroek News she was not in agreement with the minister's decision because she travels a considerable distance to get to school and her cellular phone provides direct contact with her parents when she is in commute.

"I understand fully their concerns about the phones disrupting classes but they cannot ask us to give up our cell phones entirely. It is hard for students like me not to have one," the student said.

Stabroek News made several attempts to speak with Baksh on the issue since his announcement but was unsuccessful. The Permanent Secretary, when contacted, declined to say anything and referred this newspaper to the minister.

Several parents have since come out in opposition to the decision saying among other things that the ministry is asking them to relinquish direct contact with their children. Given that the ministry has not specified the restriction, many do not know whether the ban just speaks of the classrooms.

Parents also fear they will not be able to know where they children are at very critical periods such as during the morning and afternoon commutes.

There has been a noticeable increase in the number of schoolchildren brandishing cellular phones, especially now that serious competition has driven the prices of instruments down. The secondary school population leads the way in terms of the number of students who own cellular phones, but more primary school and in some instances, nursery school children have phones.

When enforced the ban will apply to all public schools countrywide but to get a sense of what is happening in the private schools as regards cellular phones, we contacted four of the more established ones and discovered some have been against cellular phones from the beginning.

The policy at Marian Academy is that students cannot be found in the school compound with them. The administrator at the school said it is very likely students have phones but they cannot make it known to those in authority. She said the school has a system where students who have emergencies will fill out a slip, have it signed and then proceed to the office to make a telephone call.

She said the cellular phones may be useful in cases where parents want to have direct contact with their children at convenient hours while school is not in session but pointed out that the phones could be disruptive at times. In addition, she said the phones can be used for other purposes such as sending text messages during classes, which though more discreet is still worrying.

A similar system is in place at Green Acres School Group, which has play, nursery and primary departments. The head of the primary division at this school told Stabroek News that they have never entertained the idea of students having phones in class. She said the students who have cellular phones would leave them in the office on entering the compound and would uplift them when there is a break, during the lunch period or when school ends for the day.

"If anyone of them has a phone in the classroom it is one that got by us but that rarely happens. The children cooperate and no parent has complained about it," she said.

The administration at Mae's School declined to say anything, while a School of the Nations official said they are looking at the issue.

A veteran educator with over 40 years in the sector, when contacted on the issue, told Stabroek News cellular phones have no place in the classroom, while a lesson is in session. However, she is of the opinion students should be allowed to have cellular phones to stay in close contact with parents and for whatever other purposes they use them for.

"The phones should be turned off in the classrooms and I don't see why this should be a problem, because if teachers who also have cellular phones could [have them] then the students should also," she said.

She said there are structured periods such as lunch and break periods when students could use their cellular phones. According to her, outside of those periods no one should even know the cellular phone exists.