Wed, Jan 22, 2020 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Policies on phones an opportunity

On Friday last week, the Taipei Times ran a report in which teachers touted the benefits of managing cellphone use in schools. Starting from August last year, National Hsinchu Senior Industrial Vocational School banned the use of mobile phones during school hours by having the students put their devices in a box.

By the end of the semester, teachers reported “improved classroom dynamics,” saying that students paid more attention in class and spent more time playing basketball or solving Rubik’s cubes during recess, adding that “there is more chatting and laughter on campus.”

One thing in the report that did not quite add up is schools saying that they want to install a centralized cellphone management system using special locked boxes, but lack the funds to do so. That is a strange excuse: Would not any type of container or cabinet with a lock suffice?

Civic groups in Taiwan have been calling for curbs on cellphone usage in schools for almost a decade, and as cellphone addiction continues to worsen worldwide, more schools are starting to implement related policies. Not only does limiting phone use yield the aforementioned benefits, it also lets students get used to extended periods without a mobile device, as young people have started using cellphones from a young age and do not know how to spend even a few hours without one.

However, it is probably better to limit usage instead of banning them completely, as it is a given that students will push back against absolute policies and will most likely devise ingenious ways to continue to use them. Taiwan probably does not need to go as far as France, which issued a nationwide ban on cellphones in schools up to ninth grade, but all schools should at least have some kind of policy.

As Taiwan does not have any laws regarding cellphone use, the rules vary by school. For example, Taichung Municipal Chang-Yie Senior High School allows students 30 minutes of usage during lunch breaks.

Education on self-regulation methods and benefits, as well as the dangers of cellphone addiction, are also crucial and must accompany any regulations. Otherwise it will be a futile exercise and students’ cellphone usage when they leave school might become even more extreme.

The problem is that cellphone addiction is not just an issue for students, but people of all ages. Older people walking with their eyes glued to a screen are seen more often than students, who often socialize in groups. However, there is no way to limit adult phone usage.

Parents often exhibit behavior that is just as bad, with entire families staring at their phones at a restaurant now a normal sight. Often, they are the ones who encourage the students’ cellphone addiction by simply handing them a device on demand, or to pacify them when they get noisy.

However, school regulations might be a good opportunity to reach out to the parents, too, as, according to the Ministry of Education, they and students should be part of the process when deciding the limitations of student cellphone use in school.

Most parents will readily agree that cellphone use in school hampers learning and increases the chances of improper behavior, such as online bullying, but have they ever reflected on their own usage? Discussing regulations would be a good chance for all parties to communicate on the issue, and would definitely lead to more self-awareness and mutual understanding.

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