Should mobile phones be allowed in class?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

My younger cousin was enrolled in a persuasive writing class, and this was one of his prompts. The prevailing answer was no, because they present distractions and enable users to look up answers without thinking. A handful of students answered yes, because they are useful learning aids and provide points of contact in emergency situations. On a more fundamental level, the question heralds a technological revolution so pervasive, even among children, that we need to re-imagine the role of education.

Pocket calculators used to be banned at school many years ago, under the premise that calculators would prevent students from learning mathematics. Students were also tested based on their ability to perform computations quickly, and calculators would level the playing field during exams. Teachers soon realized that it was more important for the students to learn why computations were necessary in the first place, and how to express a problem in the language of mathematics such that it could be solved with or without the help of a calculator. Now, after students have a solid foundation in arithmetic, they are gradually introduced to calculators while they learn more advanced concepts.

Mobile phones would eventually be allowed in class, regardless of how we answer the question today. Furthermore, we would be encouraging students to bring their phones, and loaning units to students without them. In a society that is saturated with mobile Internet devices, we would be doing our students a disservice if we did not teach them how to use the devices effectively. Through their phones, they would have access to a massive amount of information shared on the Internet. We would need to teach them to ask the right questions and, perhaps more importantly, to validate the answers, finding facts in a sea of half-truths. We might actually need to teach them how to think rather than to learn everything by rote.

Thus, I propose a modification to the titular question: how should mobile phones be integrated into modern education?


  1. Cody says:

    I like your position, but is acceptance of mobile phones in the classroom realistic? I know in my university, most instructors do not allow the usage of notebook computers. I cannot foresee them allowing cell phones.

    1. Jiang Yio says:

      I think the level of acceptance varies. For example, I had no trouble using laptops at Columbia during my undergraduate years, and smartphones/tablets are quite common at my medical school. At the dental school next door, everyone gets a MacBook Pro upon enrollment. But this is not something that happens overnight.

  2. mateor says:

    I gave my three year old my Nook Color…good luck ever getting it out of his hands again. If the school tries, he is getting a new school.