Sir Michael Wilshaw – the newly appointed Chief inspector of Ofsted – has called for mobile phones to be banned from the classroom. His views are welcome by many in the teaching profession, but one might have expected better from a man of his position.
Wilshaw correctly identifies that mobile phones are causing disruption in the classroom. However, he seems to have failed to consider a number of relevant factors that are key to understanding to what degree mobile devices can be disruptive and whether they can be harnessed to enhance teaching and learning.
In my experience, disruption in lessons is caused by poor behaviour. Mobile phones have joined forces with paper planes, excessive chatter and illicit text messaging, which, lest we forget, went on long before mobile phones and social networks were ever conceived, as the comic strip below cleverly points out:
Poor behaviour can be dealt with according to your school’s guidelines and policies. Banning mobile phones seems to me a little shortsighted, as it does not tackle the root cause of poor behaviour.
If, as a teacher, you don’t feel supported by your schools’ policies and guidelines, then I suggest that’s a different problem altogether, which has nothing to do with mobile phones. Or paper planes, for that matter.
Secondly, Wilshaw assumes disruption is a wholly negative concept. Whenever new technologies have creeped into the classroom, they have collided with more traditional approaches to education, creating ripples that reveal a system’s potential for improvement.
Take the internet for example. Perhaps unsurprisingly, schools’ instinctive first reaction to it was the Ban and Block reflex. A few years of disruption down the line, however, most schools and teachers understand that the internet has disrupted education for the better, providing a world of timely information and allowing us to depart from the convention that pupils must be at school in order for them to learn or be taught or for teachers to be able to assess their progress.
Mobile devices are the next logical step. Perhaps the fact that pupils never forget to bring their phones to lessons but often forget their text books is a signal to us all that teaching in the 2010s is a very different business to teaching in the 1960s. A signal that we would be ill-advised to disregard so out of hand.
Wilshaw and his government backers seem to be determined to turn back the clock, looking at the past as a model for the future. Instead I would propose that we need schools that aren’t bound by the rules of the past, but rather schools that are transformed by the possibilities of the future.
On the one hand, I understand Wilshaw was a political appointment, and in politics short-term is what matters. Pandering to millions of Daily Mail Tory voting readers with entrenched views is more important in this context than proper long-term scrutiny, informed argument and judicious evaluation.
On the other hand, however, I would have expected better from a man in his position, regardless of his political persuasion. It would appear Michael Gove has finally found somebody to whom he can pass on the bogey-man baton.
What do you think?