The alleged theft of 11 mobile phones from parked vehicles of visitors to the Pal waterfall in the Sattari taluka by seven schoolboys is an alarming piece of news. The visitors, on their return from the waterfall, were horrified to find their mobiles missing. The theft, however, was solved soon with the active help of villagers who had noted suspicious activities of some boys in school uniform and identified one of the culprits. Questioning of the boy led to identification of others. The parents of the boys later handed over the stolen mobiles to the police who in turn returned them to the owners. It has since been revealed that the boys used to rummage the vehicles parked near the waterfall and might have made away with valuables in the past, cases that might not have been reported to the police. The theft should serve as an eye opener to parents, teachers, heads of schools and the education department officials.
Ever since mobiles made their appearance people crave to own one. The craze which was initially among the affluent has percolated down and even daily wage workers have them. With the prices of mobiles becoming affordable, many parents have been giving them as a gift to their schoolgoing children. Goa’s education department has banned “use of mobile phones” in schools, right from primary schools to higher secondary schools. The guidelines banning use of mobiles in the schools were issued after it was brought to the notice of authorities that the students of the higher secondary section were frequently using mobile phones in classrooms as well as school premises. The ban on use of mobile phones is not only restricted to students but also applies to teachers. However, the education department guidelines allow students to carry mobile phones with them to the school: only their use is banned. The department has justified it on the ground that they do not want to completely isolate students and prevent them from calling their parents or teachers if they face any sort of problem, before or after school hours. Students can use their mobile phones before and after school hours.
Educationists and psychologists have for long debated the pros and cons of use of mobile phones by students. It is true that mobile phones come handy in cases of emergency and they do help in e-learning and accessing information. However, there are reasons why they should be banned in schools. One of the main reasons is that they cause distraction from learning, as schoolgoing children do not use it for emergencies but for entertainment and long talks. The other reason is mobile phones are used for cyber-bullying, cheating in examinations and even to commit thefts. It has also been established that use of mobile phones has impact on student performance in studies and examinations. There is also the valid argument that allowing mobile phones in schools widens the divide between students whose parents can afford to give them mobiles and the students whose parents cannot give them any. Among the students whose parents can afford to give them mobiles there are further divisions, on the basis of whose parents have the money to give expensive phones to their children and whose parents have only the means to given ordinary phones to their children. The parents of the school children who were caught for stealing mobiles of tourists at Pal obviously did not have the means even to give them ordinary mobiles. Or perhaps they had the means but they were not willing to give them any mobiles. Either way, the culprit has to be found in the permission given by the education department and school authorities to students to carry their mobiles with them to school. If no child carried a mobile, the children from poorer families might not feel tempted to make up for their lack of a mobile with theft.
It is wrong for the education department to expect school authorities to maintain vigilance that students use their mobiles outside classrooms and school premises. The fault lies in allowing mobiles to be brought to school. Once the child has a mobile you cannot stop him or her misusing it. Mobiles are becoming an addiction. Why does the education department promote an addiction? The education department should impose a total ban on mobile phones in schools as has been done by the Kerala government. In case of emergencies, the best solution is to help students reach their parents through an in-house mechanism in school, with special attendants headed by a teacher designated for the job.