Ban mobile phones and wireless networks in schools, say European leaders

Welcome to my world.

This post from The Telegraph arrived in my inbox recently. A Council of Europe committee has made a strong recommendation to ban mobile phones and wireless networks in schools. According to the article, this is despite contradicting research from the World Health Organisation and the UK Department of Health which states there is no risk. Ontario's Ministry of Health has recently put out a statement declaring that there is no health risk from the wireless signals.

My problem is this.

In education (and everywhere else in the world), wireless access to the Internet is not only useful, it adds a tremendous opportunities to deliver an exceptional educational experience. It is the essence of where we in IT are going.

I know that tomorrow, I will have more than one call regarding Appleby College's position on this.

As with all schools, we take the health and welfare of our students very seriously. We would never expose our kids to hazards knowingly (with the possible exception of rugby). The evidence and studies from reputable organizations have clearly stated that wireless networks pose little or no risk.

Mobile phones on the other hand are not recommended for young children up to and including teens. There is some research that would indicate placing the antenna in the proximity of their brains may cause changes in brain activity. I would ask you this... when was the last time you saw a person under 20 actually talking on their phone? I work in a school full of kids between 12 and 18 years of age, and the only time they typically make phone calls is when their parents call them, since their parents typically haven't figured out how to text yet. In 2010, according to Nielsen, the average teenager now sends 3,339 texts per month, or over 100 texts per day. The phone is nowhere near their brain (and I would suggest by the context of some of the texts I've seen, the brain isn't even engaged).

I would be more worried about the 8.5 hours of media exposure the average North American teen gets on a daily basis (and somehow squeezes an extra couple of hours of media exposure in by multi-tasking).

Are more studies needed? Probably.

Will we change our direction around wireless networking and the use of cellular phones in our school. Probably not.

Will we engage in dialog with our students and their parents to understand the concept of self moderating the use of technology? Absolutely.

There are far more proven sharp edges on the Internet for our students to be impacted by including cyberbullying, sexting (if you have a teenager and don't know what that is... I'm so sorry to be the one to make you aware of it... it may be time for a talk), stalking, exposure to inappropriate images, being distracted to the point of their academics suffering, addiction to online gaming, gambling and so on. We deal with this on a daily basis.

Our approach is not to take access to technology away, but to ensure that our students learn to safely navigate the Internet, and be a safe citizen. We teach them that they are not invisible on the Internet, that sites like Facebook and Google are not free (there is a cost), that not everyone is really your friend, that if you send someone a picture of you doing something stupid, it may show up in a future job interview.

We also teach them that technology is a means to achieving things you could barely imagine. They are global citizens. They have to be to survive and thrive in today's world. Access to technology is required to assist them in this journey.

So my advice to the members of the committee who want to ban mobile phones and wireless Internet. Be careful what you are asking for. From my perspective, you are framing the future of our kids based on your own experiences, from the world you grew up in, not the world of today.

As an old Hebrew Proverb says 'Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time.'


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