Currently there is a debate in educational circles, professionals, and parents about smartphones in schools.
There is a concern about distraction, cheating in tests, cyber-bullying and inequality or the have’s vs the have-nots.
These are real issues that should not to be swept under the carpet, ignored and not dealt with. The impact can be very real.
However, it is not a new issue, and it is an issue that the College is active in addressing. Not perfectly, but actively.
Some have talked about banning them. I can’t support this approach. You cannot put the genie back in the bottle as the old saying goes. It means that once you wish for something that comes true you can’t backtrack. You can’t pretend it never happened.
We wanted the power, usefulness and ease of access of smartphones. And we have all of that. We cannot go backwards in our development.
Instead, we need to learn how to use them appropriately.
At a school, that means that they should be used for learning. Teachers are better off educating students in how to use them well.
The VCAA has expressly banned devices in exams everywhere in every school Victoria. This is why we ask students to not bring them in earlier years than VCE and confiscate them if students forget. The repercussions of absent-mindedly taking one into a formal exam are extremely serious. Again, we believe it is better to train and educate early rather than regret consequences later.
Cyber-bullying is real. Too many of you will know this from experience. Whilst it is not always easy to put an old head on young shoulders, it is also not easy to get everyone to consider the impact of their actions on others beforehand – old or young!
Instead, we try to adopt an approach of educating our young people in moral behaviour, in empathy. We try to educate them and form them as good digital citizens who are alert to the power and risks of their activities in this space.
We have a very clear code of conduct to help students distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate usage. These are clear guidelines to ensure that what constitutes appropriateness is able to be understood from the outset. And then, this becomes the setting for our attempt to address the inequality that can happen in supposedly equal communities like schools.
We have moved rapidly to provide each student in Years 7-10 with the same device. Equality.
We have moved to train teachers to assist all students to use them well. Equality.
We have moved to assist all students to use them, and therefore their phones by extension, appropriately and justly.
In this way the students can become part of the solution to the misuse of technologies. They can become a force for good by setting the right example for others.
None of these things can be expected to happen perfectly, but I wanted you all to know why we have the approach that we do.
Talk with your daughters and sons. Ask them if they have been assisted to use technology for learning. Ask them if they have learnt how to use it in ways that are not hurtful or unfair to others.
If they say yes, thank their teachers silently if you like.
If they say no, contact Phil Sakellaridis and he will make sure that the right assistance is made available to them.
These technologies are never going to disappear. We love need to know how to use them well and appropriately.
That is the College’s position.