ANY move to allow children to take handphones to school was bound to be controversial. Even though the handphone has become mainstream in the last decade, the fact is unlimited access, even in the hands of adults, is controversial.
Admittedly, there are very few places to which adults cannot take their handphones (some government offices and foreign embassies are among them), but there are many places where the use of handphones is prohibited; hospital wards, cinemas, airplanes, petrol stations and university examination halls, to name a few.
But, of course, just because there are large signs, announcements and even laws specifically stating that handphones are not to be used does not mean that adults, who should know better and be more disciplined, abide by them. So, it would be reasonable to assume that enforcing similar rules on children in schools would be about as difficult, if not more, given that school is where children are just learning about rules, and obeying or breaking them. So, when it was proposed that handphones be permitted in school starting from next year, teachers were right to be concerned about how to regulate its use. Teachers have enough difficulty getting students to concentrate on lessons, without the added communicational avenue the handphone provides. The deputy education minister says the move is to "provide a virtual learning environment so that students can use their gadgets to learn". But it would be naive to assume that that is all the students will be using their phones for. In any case, in the cyberworld, learning cannot be limited to what is in the school syllabus. So, the ministry must realise to what it is consenting, and the burden it is placing on schools.
But still, the move is not without support. In a society where schoolchildren are out of their parents' supervision from morning until early evening, the handphone may be the only way for parents to check on their children outside of school hours. But if this is the purpose of allowing handphones in school, then the rules for this privilege must be tailored for it. Students should only be allowed to have basic handphones, whose only function is to make calls and to send and receive SMSes. The phones should not have any camera, video or voice-recording capabilities, or Internet access. Each handphone number and make must be registered with the school. Handphones must be turned off during classes, and they must be left out altogether during tests and exams. Students who cannot abide by these rules forfeit the privilege. Until students can prove that they have the maturity and discipline to exercise this privilege, nothing smarter should even be considered.