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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Columnist: Akesseh, Solomon Amanzulley

Public Schools and the Myth about Cell Phones

There have been a few arguments in the media over cell phones in schools and participants in this argument have mostly been against the idea of students having cell phones. I’ve listened to most of these arguments against cell phones and I cannot say that they have been very well thought out. These arguments are usually a variation of the worn out “they are a distraction” argument. Let’s get real and serious here. Instead of just adamantly insisting cell phones should be banned, let’s weigh the arguments and then come to a rational conclusion.

Dr Nii Moi Thompson in his recent argument against the ban of cell phones suggested rightly that students needed it to keep in touch with the parents and the rest of the outside world. Those supporting the ban countered that before cell phones students were keeping in touch with their parents alright. I do not disagree with this. It is certainly true. However, anyone who has had to queue for hours in order to use a phone booth knows that it is highly inconvenient and unpleasant. With our poor maintenance culture in Ghana, most of the time there are even no phone booths to queue for. Does it then not make sense if students have cell phones to reduce this hassle? Again those who make the argument that in the past there were no cell phones so there is no reason to have them now are doing some very faulty reasoning. Surely in the past there were none of these technologies that make our lives easier, but now that we have them it would be just silly not to use them. If Technology is not going to make our lives easier then why bother to develop them? Cell phones are here and we must encourage our students to use them instead of forcing archaic communication techniques on them. It wouldn’t be long before some suggest that students use a telegraph machine.

The most potent of all the arguments against cell phones in public schools is that they are a distraction. Seriously? Come on guys! Anyone who has been a student before knows that if a student does not want to study, he or she will not study. There are a million distractions available to a student at any one time and a student may easily choose one of these distractions. During prep time, if I have no desire to study biology, I may read a novel, sleep, write a letter, talk to my friends or just stare out of the window. The possibilities are endless. For a student intent on studying however, that student will study no matter what is happening around them. Trust me, I know. I went to a boarding school in Cape Coast and even though students were not using mobile phones during prep time, they were not studying either. Hence I find it hard to believe that banning cell phones will somehow make students want to study. In short, the magnitude of distractions available ensures that the availability or non-availability of cell phones does not factor into the calculus of students not wanting to study. Hence if cell phones do no harm when they have potential to do well by helping communication, then it just does not make sense to ban them.

Another argument that people raise against cell phones is that students will have to charge them and by so doing consume electricity increasing operational costs. The power costs of charging cell phones are negligible. If you leave your phone plugged in overnight which is just over juicing the battery, you consume around 3.68 watts of power but all a cell phone needs to repower is 3 hours tops which comes to around 0.46 watts. Considering the public schools already huge electricity costs, this adds nothing to it. In any case, the costs of charging cell phones, which is negligible anyway, can be passed on to parents and no one would even notice the extra pesewas. So it is just excuse making to even contemplate this argument.

On the issue of distraction again, the only thing that we need to check is students speaking on phones while a teacher is teaching. This I doubt would even be a problem. Any one ignorant enough to try that would just forfeit possession of their phone. Another potential problem is that students would take advantage of free night calls and hence will sleep during the day. I believe adults also benefit from free night calls and I do not think they are sleeping during the work hour. Essentially it comes to down personal responsibility. Instead of trying to envelope students in a cocoon, why not let them take full advantage of everything that will be available to them in the outside world while teaching them to be responsible instead. We have problems with our public school system and with our students. Banning cell phones and electrical equipments do not get to the cause of the problems. They are just cosmetic cover-ups when the real flaws are still hidden under the make-up. Cell phones pose absolutely no problems to public schools. Any argument otherwise is just a manifestation of a society deeply distrustful of embracing change and moving into the 21st century.

Solomon Amanzulley Akesseh,

Grinnell College,