"Are Our Kids at a Digital Crossroad?

The Unexpected Case for Mobiles in Class."

As always as a keynote speaker and someone that loves to talk about technology and the future of work on radio and podcasts and on stage for businesses to inspire their people. It was interesting to be asked for my thoughts on the radio in the wake of recent news. Regarding the proposed ban on mobile phones in schools across England. So once again the debate surrounding the role of technology in education has once again been thrust into the limelight.

As guardians of the next generation's minds and mentors to the leaders of tomorrow, it's crucial that we navigate this digital crossroad with both caution and foresight.

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Let's start with some basic commonsense. Any approach that treats 12 years olds the same as 16 year olds is likely to do more harm than good. Much like the age-appropriate guidelines we adhere to when it comes to television and movies, the conversation around mobile phones in schools should not be a one-size-fits-all approach.

The developmental stage of a child plays a pivotal role in how they interact with technology. It is impractical to equate the needs and capabilities of a primary school student with those of a sixth-former. The mobile phone, a multi-faceted tool, has the power to educate, entertain, and evoke emotion. The key lies in the tailored application of its use.

This is something that was instantly dismissed as too complex, by the other guests on the radio, much to my chagrin. As this would be too complicated for young minds to deal with. And yet this is simply not the case…

The Future is Calling

Let's not forget, young people are the architects of what work will look like in the future – a future undeniably intertwined with technology, AI, and continuous digital innovation. To ban mobile phones outright is to ignore the digital literacy necessary for young people to thrive in the workforce of tomorrow. Instead of a blanket prohibition, we should consider age-appropriate usage policies that prepare students for the digital world they will inherit.

In our quest for a more tech-savvy educational environment, we once lobbied for more computers in schools. Today, mobile phones are the mini-computers that fit into our pockets. The myriad of ways they can be integrated into classroom learning is staggering. From augmenting resources due to lagging Wi-Fi and outdated school technology to fostering collaborative learning through educational apps, mobile phones have the potential to be powerful allies in education.

Technology, much like any tool, has its virtues and vices. The crucial factor is how we utilize it. As we stand on the brink of the next educational evolution, we must embrace technology, ensuring we leverage it to enhance learning experiences. The irony should not be lost on us that mobile phones, devices capable of unlocking vast wells of knowledge, are seen as inhibitors rather than enablers of learning.

In my book - Intelligence: The Fifth Industrial Revolution I talk about emotional intelligence being key to how we view the future. To this end, we cannot overlook the intense emotional connection that children and adolescents have formed with their mobile phones, especially considering the isolation many experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For some, these devices were their lifeline to the outside world, their classroom, and their social circles. It's a bond that cannot be severed without consideration. Which means this is not solely a school issue but a societal one, deeply rooted in parental modelling and behaviour. The "digital green cross code" – the guidelines for responsible and safe technology use – must be taught and reinforced both at home and in the classroom.

Shocking Interruptions: A Call for Balance

As a dad of a teenager myself, and someone that has worked in and around education for 20 years, the statistics from Scottish state secondary schools paint a troubling picture:

  • 92% of lessons are interrupted by mobile phones.
  • With 46% of educators reporting phone calls occurring during class time.
  • So now 90% of teachers advocate for a ban.

Yet, before we rush to judgement, let's remember the broader context. A ban might silence the interruptions temporarily, but it will not address the underlying issues of digital literacy and responsible use. Education, not prohibition, is the sustainable solution. The irony of this being in an educational context is not lost on me.

Neither is the rise and rise of the potential of AI on your mobile phone. Meaning that teachers could really be helped by mobile phones in the classroom when used properly and in an engaging way. As we ponder the place of mobile phones in our schools, let us not veer towards extremes. The middle path – one of guided, age-appropriate use, clear boundaries, and educational reinforcement – is where the true solution lies. It's a path that acknowledges the undeniable role of technology in our lives, while also safeguarding the sanctity of education and the well-being of our students.

In this digital era, we must educate to empower, teaching our youth not just to navigate the digital world, but to harness its vast potential for their betterment and the betterment of society as a whole.


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Want to listen to the whole radio interiew with Dan Sodergren as a guest talking about tech.

That is here. On the Dan Sodergren YouTube Channel.

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