Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By An Phương
Though school regulations do not allow students to use mobile phones in classes, I’ve seen many cases, including my nephews, carrying smartphones and using them publicly in schools.
Mobile phones, especially smartphones, have become an essential part of our daily lives. I can’t imagine going one day without touching my iPhone, as I need to make calls, reply to messages, draft emails, and scroll my social feeds. Of course, I’m already an adult.
I first had my phone about 10 years ago when I was 16, and I felt okay with having it at that age. However, I believe that’s not the case these days as even my 10-year-old nephew has asked his father for a phone.
That’s why when I noticed the topic of phones in schools, I had mixed feelings as to whether mobile phones are beneficial or distracting for students.
I spoke with four people, two of them four or five years younger than me, and the others two years older, and they all agreed that mobile phones can have either positive or detrimental effects on students, depending on how adults guide them.
“I have a younger sister who is 15 years old,” Ngọc Anh, 25, said. “She was given my dad’s old mobile phone two years ago. It’s from Nokia and my sister is perfectly fine with it since she has been taught to use the phone to call my dad after school for pick up and emergency cases only.”
Meanwhile, my aunt, 48, told me that my nephew’s inability to live without his phone had become a frustration for her family.
“Huy An is now 16, and I allowed him to have a smartphone about three to four years ago. I didn’t think much as Huy An was familiar with using my iPad, and I didn’t have time to carefully take care of him so I thought a phone could make his life easier, as well as make myself feel less guilty,” my aunt said.
“Now his teachers have told me that Huy An constantly watches YouTube videos during class, so I’ve become particularly concerned,” she added.
My aunt’s case isn’t rare as many parents are encountering a similar problem.
According to educational experts, it’s difficult for anyone to not have a smartphone these days since they are essential items.
Xuân Nhã, 34, a teacher at a secondary school in HCM City, told me that she often saw her students hide their phones under their skirts, texts under desks, or use “bathroom passes” to finish posting their thoughts to social media.
“This has occurred for about four to five years. I was upset at first as phones distracted my students from listening to my lectures, but I came to realise that there’s nothing I can do to stop students from carrying their phones to school,” she said
“That’s when I started to set some class rules and be strict with my punishment. I informed parents at a teacher-parent meet-and-greet session at the beginning of the academic year about how I would keep a student’s phone if I spotted one using his or her phone during my lecture,” she said.
“Of course, students’ phones are not mine to keep forever, so I will return them at the end of the academic year,” she added.
Nhã said that most students’ parents had been supportive and that surprisingly her new students had made life much easier for her.
“My ninth grade students recently taught me to use kahoot.it, a free game-based learning platform that makes it fun to learn a subject. Instead of handling out 15-minute quizzes like every teacher has done, my students told me to create multiple-choice quizzes on kahoot.it and let students join the game using their smartphones!” she said.
“It’s interactive and so much fun! Smartphones can be excellent learning devices.” Nhã said, adding that she’d found using phones in class to be positive as well.
Being tech-savvy myself, I still have doubts about letting students or even my future children carrying phones to school.
However, thinking back about how I got through that “chaotic period” when first having a smartphone, I have experiences that I would like to share to ones in need.
When I first got an iPhone, which was around the 12th grade, I was quite aware of the negative impact a smartphone could have, partly because I wrote so many assignments on the topic and also because my mother was straightforward with how she would like me to use my phone.
With that said, parents’ support and guidance plays an important role in how to make mobile phones, especially smartphones, useful devices for their kids.
From my research, effective communication between parents and their children is not only essential to their relationships but also for the children’s well-being.
If parents communicate openly and effectively and both sides contribute to the conversation, chances are that their children will feel respected and easily understand the matter.
My aunt agreed with me, adding that, “Since children these days are very smart, we shouldn’t try to ban them from using the phones, but should introduce smartphones into their lives in a ‘smart’ way.”
“I’ve done it with Huy Mạnh, Huy An’s younger brother, and so far, he’s doing great!” my aunt said.
In addition to parents’ support, Hoài Thương, 23, said that giving student digital breaks between lessons could be a great idea for schools to use to limit the potential distraction in class.
“I think keeping a close eye on how mobile phones are being used in schools has sort of become teachers’ new duty in the modern era,” Thương added.
The use of mobile phones these days can bring about both negativity and positivity for students. It’s a balancing act between teachers and parents to educate them on how to use mobile phones effectively.
Banning mobile phones is not the ultimate solution. – VNS