Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Schools ponder cell phone policy!

Published:Sunday | July 26, 2015 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
A student using her cellular phone on her way from school.
Murray
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With more and more students turning up at schools with cellular phones, administrators are mulling a unified position around the use of these devices amid concern for the safety of students and the possible negative issues related to the use of phones in schools.

Already some administrators have instituted a total ban on cell phones in their schools, while others are trying to craft policies to allow their presence without opening the door to unwanted consequences.

Last week, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites told The Sunday Gleaner that he has left the decision to administrators, who should consult with various groups before making the best decision.

"Each school must deal with its phone policy. It's hard for the Ministry of Education to judge between distraction and security on the issue of cell phone use," said Thwaites.

Heather Murray, president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools later told our news team that while school leaders are mulling the issue to find the best solution, come the new school year, Hampton, which she leads, will be relaxing its policy to allow students to carry cell phones.

"There are some schools that allow technology usage. I will have to go back now and take a decision to allow devices from a school that has come the full gamut from suspensions. It seems so dated to have had that position up to two years ago. But the rest of us are trying to determine how to proceed. It's particularly difficult for the boarding schools though," Murray told The Sunday Gleaner from Dominica where she is attending a meeting of Caribbean principals.

"Many of the parents complain that we don't have a good enough telephone system so they can communicate with their daughters. So most principals are trying to strike a balance between allowing usage, but we are also concerned about the safety of the students, as you know children have been harmed for their devices.

"However, because of the many good uses, for example, of messaging parents about school activities, parent-teacher association and any emergency in schools, the use of cell phones is being considered. Many schools in rural Jamaica are using it to text parents about their children's behaviour. So it is making it far more difficult for us to say we are suspending. It's the middle way and the sensible thing that we are trying to determine," said Murray.

 

Caribbean issue

 

She said the discussion was not singular to Jamaica as the issue is occupying the minds of the Caribbean principals as well, and the major issue is how to manage the use of the technology.

Campion College, St Andrew High School and Wolmer's Boys and Girls schools are among those which allow the use of cellular phones on their campuses. St Andrew High School has a 'bring your own device policy', which includes other technological instruments while Wolmer's requires that the phones are registered.

"The gentlemen will not be allowed to take any of the allowed devices to school without duly registering same, along with the signed parent and student contract. ... After Monday, October 7, the gentlemen may take their registered device to school," said the administration of Wolmer's Boys in a letter to parents and students last year.

 

cell phone Suspension

 

But the open-door policy of Wolmer's is different from some schools, where students face possible suspension if they are found with a cellular phone while on the campus.

Everton Hannam, president of the National Parent-Teacher Association, has denounced this harsh punishment.

"We have to stop suspending students. This is the 21st century. Phones can do a lot of damage, yes, but we have to think about what we are doing to the students when they are suspended. It is something that goes on their record. And the schools have to do better than suspending students," said Hannam.

He noted that some students have been targeted and others killed for their phones.

"In many schools, phones have cost lives, and many more students are injured but the schools don't report it because they don't want to sully their good name. There is even a phone gang going around, and that is why some schools went to the extreme and say no phone," charged Hannam.

"The same phone is being used to film what we see now on YouTube and other sections of social media, and it brings a lot of schools into disrepute. The question is how do we find a way ... some organised way, to use phones in schools."

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com