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Teacher Bashed For Taking Away iPod…

February 24, 2007

What are we to make of this story from The Age? When Frank Burd of Philadelphia’s Germantown High School ended up in hospital with two broken bones in his neck after trying to confiscate an iPod, we have to stop and think very carefully about how we approach the use of iPods and mobile phones in Scottish schools.
At the moment, the two main Scottish Unions have opposing views on the matter. The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) stated in their Boxing Day news release that phones should be confiscated:

2.4 Policies should be explicit about the rights of staff to confiscate mobile phones where the policy is breached, the logging by schools of confiscated items, the return of confiscated items and deletion of images which are in breach of the policy. Good practice would be for confiscated phones to be held by the school office and return arranged by the Headteacher or other senior manager.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) have taken the view that all phones should be banned, but, importantly, that when dealing with pupils who are using their phones in school they should not be confiscated because:

Any such action can lead to serious confrontations which have led to staff be accused with assault in some cases. Confiscated phones have subsequently been stolen from classrooms leading to claims for compensation. The risk of escalation is too great for this to be effective. We are, therefore, not supportive of such policies.

Being honest, I don’t think either union has the right answer. Though suggesting different approaches to the issue of phones, I feel that both have missed the point, and in doing so they reveal one of the fundamental problems facing education at this time. Both unions’ approaches indicate that they believe that we can prevent the use (and misuse) of mobile technology in the classroom, and in this respect, they are both wrong. Both appear to have based their response on an outdated view of how technology is adopted. Both have failed to realise that the genie is out of the body, and that the pupils are already using the technology… and will continue to do so, irrespective of our opinions.

What really galls for many is that we do not control the usage of phones/iPods/etc… and this is hard to accept for teachers who have traditionally been an ‘authority’ figure with all that that entails. If the powers-that-be don’t understand it, and can’t control it, they’ll ban it or block it or make up rules to prevent its use…and in the meantime, the pupils are using (and abusing) the power in their pocket without really giving any thought to anyone else.

If we were smart we’d be asking how we get pupils to take responsibility for their use of the tools, and how do we turn the advantages of mobile tech to allow pupils and teachers to work smarter? For what it’s worth, I think we need to get many more tech literate teachers into all levels of education from primary through to secondary and beyond. But even this is just going to be a first step. What we really need are people in power who understand and ‘get’ the importance of this connected world. Sadly, it is all too clear at times that a lack of understanding and vision leads to situations that could be avoided.

The assault on Frank Burd was as horrifying for its ferocity as it was for the senselessness it represents. I only hope that we here in Scotland can take a more enlightened and positive approach to mobile technology… though the Union’s and Scottish Executive’s opposing and contradictory points-of-view don’t fill me with much hope.

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