Will using mobile devices in high schools be realistic? [Article]

On July 8, 2020, the management of the Mount Sinai high school in Akropong Akuapem in the Eastern region of Ghana reportedly expelled three final year students for using mobile phones in school.

The expulsion was because the act is against the rules and regulations of the school (educationghana.net July 8, 2020).

Again, in 2018, authorities of the Damango senior high school in the West Gonja District of the Northern region threatened to expel students using mobile phones in schools.

In this case, the reason was because of the abysmal performance of students in West African senior secondary school certificate examination (WASSCE) (GhanaWeb, July 20, 2018).

But, within this current age of information explosion—that is, an era where information provision and management have become more critical to all levels of development than ever.

The obvious question: are these devices relevant with regards to learning?; do they mostly cause the abysmal performance of students in schools?; is it that the current generation can’t do away with these devices ‘necessary-evil’? Can these mobile devices be made more productive and thus facilitate the learning process in institutions?

Following the devastating effect of COVID-19 with heightened inequalities and halt of traditional face-face education, we recommend the integration of the use of mobile devices with strict usage regulations predominantly in upper secondary schools.

Since the pandemic, technology and digitalization have become a cornerstone for most education systems globally.

COVID-19 continues to amplify the advocacy for a system change.

We, therefore, call for a systemic change that can allow the use of mobile devices in senior high schools.

Undeniably, parents, teachers, and part of the general public can disagree that mobile devices such as phones, tablets, and laptops, and the internet are necessary for pre-tertiary education.

The denial is foreseeable: over the years, the typical perception held by most Ghanaians is that using mobile devices and the internet are significant sources of insubordination among our youth.

Other fears associated with using mobile devices and the internet are typical in Africa.

For instance, in Nigeria like Ghana, many parents worry about their children’s habits on social media platforms and the fact that their wards hardly have time to read.

Reading habits are altering, because of the steady control of social media over the lives globally, mostly young people.

Students now deficient in traditional reading skills and instead spend more time on electronic media (Owusu Nsiah, 2020).

In 2014, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa stated that the advent of social media had negatively affected the writing and speaking of the English language among young Ghanaians (Daily express September 30, 2014).

What is more, Ruth Kwakwa, the Dean of students for Ashesi University, observes that “smartphones have eaten into the reading culture. It is so much easier to pick up a phone than a book these days. Physical books cannot win over electronics. So, suppose in high schools or at home, there is no reading culture preceding electronics. It will be tricky” (Interview, Ashesi university bulletin, February 2014).

Finally, in 2015, research conducted by Dakota Lawson and Bruce Henderson, showed negative impacts of mobile phone usage in class and information comprehension.

They concluded that students who used phones in school had significantly lower test scores. Thus, mobile use impairs students’ understanding and performance (Lawson & Henderson, 2015).

To an extent, we agree with these general concerns. However, we disagree and thus provide some reasons why these mobile devices are relevant and thus can facilitate the learning and teaching in upper secondary schools.
We refuse to blame young people when some adults have failed in providing the necessary regulations and monitoring for the use of the internet and mobile devices.

Primarily, one of the failures is that there have not been any explicit discussions with our young people about the dangers and benefits of using mobile devices and the internet.

The general projections and assumptions are that young people can automatically know how to harness the benefits and mitigate the harms of technology and digitalization.

The common trend so far is to wait for the youth to record themselves engaging in delinquent and abhorring behaviours before we openly condemn their actions. These inactions and reactive strategies continue to fail young people. COVID-19 continues to expose the potential of digitalization and technology for education systems.

The obvious question is, do “we” want to maintain an education status quo where digitalization in secondary school education is lacking and problematic?

Do you remember the number of times you had IT lessons in your upper secondary school days?

Do you remember the number of functional computers in your upper secondary school computer laboratory?

An education system where young people are being suspended or punished for expressing their curiosity and intuitive to exploring technology and digitalisation?

Not much can be said about digitalization and technology in our junior high schools either.

I do not believe our old educational trajectory is worth returning to; an intentional change is necessary.

COVID-19 has shown that mobile devices, including mobile phones, can complement face to face teaching and learning.

For instance, software including Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp were instrumental mediums explored in education during the pandemic.

They remain relevant for education systems to achieve the call for “blended learning” in post-COVID-19 education.

What do we propose?

Alice Amegah starts with a practical example of how inadequate digitalization in upper secondary schools has long term effects.

“My senior high school had a small computer laboratory. I could count the number of times I assessed practical ICT lessons in the computer laboratory. The worst experience was when I did not get to practice the task of the day because it did get to my turn before the lesson was over. The feeling of missing out on practical ICT was sad. Maybe you could share in this experience if your senior high school had a small computer laboratory like mine or even worse had none.”

“The core point is, many others like me missed at out, if not deprived. The inadequate ICT training in our upper secondary schools, result in some students entering universities without adequate knowledge of how to use a computer or how to use our mobile devices to learn,” she added.

We are not here to blame the Government of Ghana or managers of upper secondary schools in Ghana.

However, they could take some blame if they knew and know they can do better with digitalization in upper secondary schools.

What if GOG legalizes the use of mobile phones which are cheaper than laptops and tablets to complement the few computers available in upper secondary schools? Is it sustainable?

Will children from deprived families and communities have anything to lose?

Well, maybe to some extent this proposal might be complicated in the Ghanaian context.

Yet, the relevance here is that with access to mobile phones most young people could get to learn the same content at the same time, with the same teacher and in the same class or at home.

Can the new Ghanaian owned mobile technology company called KTA Mobile partner with the GOG to provide affordable tailored mobile phones for Ghanaian students?

Can communications network providers join this partnership to censor social media and make learning websites and software free for students?

In conclusion, we agree that digitalization has its pros and cons.

However, “We” cannot let the cons sway the pros.

The reality is that times are no longer the same.

“We” cannot deprive young people of 21st-century digitalization because of the disadvantages of using mobile phones and the internet.

There may be a few obstinate adolescents who may fall in the loopholes yet ignoring the opportunities of digital education is not a sustainable solution.

We recognize the contextual challenges, but with the right mindset, “We” can progress.

The Ghana Education Service can contribute to this discourse by rethinking the regulations that govern the use of mobile phones in upper secondary schools in Ghana.

Instead of stifling the progress of digitalization in education while not creatively amend current laws to make making technology accessible.

In a collaborative, explorative, and creative spirit, mobile phones can become assets rather than a liability for young people.

We are hopeful for a system change that does not hold back our young people from accessing and advancing in digitalisation and technology.

We anticipate a day where Ghana’s education system would regularise the usage of mobile devices for learning in upper secondary schools.

It is important to note that there are conditions to the above propositions.

First, proper, and strict regulations to govern how young people use mobile phones in schools are pre-requisite.

Another requirement is that there will be a consultative procedure to seek the opinion of relevant stakeholders, including students.

It is time to challenge the notion of ‘tabooism’ associated with young people using portable technology devices to learn in our society.

Our focus is on upper secondary schools because it is a period where young people are adolescents transitioning into young adulthood.

Adolescence is a developmental period marked by exploration, curiosity, and identity formation.

Therefore, a period where young people would need direction and support as they make choices that can shape their entire life and future broadly.

Alice Amegah, University of Cambridge and Isaac Owusu Nsiah, University of Oxford

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