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Don’t make blanket ban of smartphones in schools – Kyambogo don

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Dr. Stephen Ndawula, an expert in Educational Communication and Technology, says that there is no need for Uganda, and other countries alike, to make a blanket ban on smartphones from students in schools.

Dr Ndawula who is the head of the Department of Curriculum, Teaching, Instruction and Media at Kyambogo University says that despite the fears that smartphones can lead to several bad things in education and to students, they equally have a brighter side that needs to be exploited.

Ndawula’s remarks come against the backdrop of the United Nation’s report entitled Technology in Education; A Tool On Whose Terms that among other things recommended the banning of the use of smartphones in schools worldwide.

Released on Wednesday by Unesco, the UN’s education, science, and culture agency, the report noted that banning smartphones, tablets, or laptops can tackle classroom disruption, improve learning and help protect children from cyberbullying.

The report further cited large-scale international assessment data that indicated a negative link between the excessive use of digital technology and student performance.

“Large-scale international assessment data, such as that provided by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), suggest a negative link between excessive ICT use and student performance. Mere proximity to a mobile device was found to distract students and to have a negative impact on learning in 14 countries, yet less than one in four have banned smartphone use in schools,” the report reads in part.

The report further warned policymakers against an unthinking embrace of digital technology, arguing that its positive impact on learning outcomes and economic efficiency could be overstated, and new was not always better.

However, Ndawula says that instead of placing a ban on such devices that can facilitate learning, policymakers should instead develop and enforce stronger policies to regulate how learners are using the devices during the teaching-learning process.

In addition to other concerns, the UN report also addresses the issue of data protection in technology used in education. The report reveals that only 16 percent of countries have legal provisions in place to ensure data privacy in the classroom.

“We know that vast amounts of data are being used without the appropriate regulation, so this data ends up being used for other non-educational purposes, commercial purposes and that’s of course a violation of rights that needs to be regulated.” Manos Antoninis, the Director of the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report at UNESCO commented during the launch of the report.

Ndawula considers data protection to be a significant and pressing concern that must be addressed promptly. He advocates for the implementation of robust systems and measures to safeguard users, including both learners and teachers, while using these devices.

According to Ndawula, such safeguards are crucial in countering potential threats posed by third-party actors who may exploit the technology for malicious purposes. Such threats include invasion of privacy, the dissemination of online hatred, and other potential issues that could arise if data security is not adequately addressed.

“This goes to regulations, there must be protection of the users and the data used on education platforms. There must be strong systems as well,” he adds.

Whereas some schools, mostly international schools are already allowing learners to use smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Uganda lacks a comprehensive policy on technology in education. Over the past decade, the Ministry of Education has been striving to develop guidelines to govern the appropriate use of technology in schools.

In many schools in Uganda, possessing a phone is considered offensive, leading to potential suspension of learners but the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the urgent need for such a regulatory framework, as individuals were acting independently without clear guidelines.

For instance, some universities attempted to conduct online examinations, a common practice elsewhere in the world, but it was unfamiliar in Uganda and in the end, the Education Minister refused some institutions from administering online examinations at that particular moment.

Another point of contention arose when certain secondary schools, mainly in Kampala, permitted students to carry smartphones for educational purposes under the new learner-centered lower secondary curriculum. The Higher Education State Minister, Dr John Chrysostom Muyingo hurriedly halted this move.

The minister observed that although smartphones can help bridge the ICT gap in schools and enhance learning, there is currently no policy in place to govern their usage. Consequently, he requested schools to discontinue the use of smartphones until the government establishes a comprehensive policy to regulate their integration into the learning process.

Ndawula agrees with the report that learning benefits from smartphones and other related devices disappear if technology is used in excess or in the absence of a qualified teacher. For example, distributing computers to students does not improve learning if teachers are not involved in the pedagogical experience.

He further emphasizes that, in Uganda’s case, a crucial step before allowing smartphones and related devices in schools is to provide comprehensive training to teachers.

“Currently, many students are more technologically savvy than their teachers, and a significant number of educators lack proficiency in utilizing technology for educational purposes. The challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic exposed this, with many teachers unprepared to adapt their teaching methods to these tools,” he says.

Ndawula said the focus should be on Educational Communication and Technology, with a particular emphasis on mastering new media. to him, since Uganda cannot disregard technology’s role in education, enhancing teachers’ technological competence and incorporating new media into the teaching process should be a priority.