Can mobile phones in school make the grade?
Estonia is interesting. In the mid-1990s it launched the Tiger Leap initiative which rolled out internet access to every school in the country. It also launched the X-Road initiative which formed the backbone of the Estonia’s e-services and in 2002, eKool, which was a national e-school network enabling access to grades, schedules, homework assignments and more.
How have these initiatives affected school life in Estonia? We recently did a study of Estonian students to explore how they are using ICT.
Computers are the primary digital-work tool in Estonian schools. However, the government-backed initiatives did not provide every student with their own computer and because of a lack of resources, one-to-one programs (one student, one computer) do not yet exist. This means that the students have to share computers. This is kind of like having perfect roads and gas stations but a lack of cars. The students’ workaround for this is to use their own devices (smartphones and tablets) for school work.
Almost 80 percent of the respondents have access to a mobile phone even if they are not officially accepted as work tools. Teachers tend to have a pragmatic attitude toward them. Additionally, almost 25 percent say they use mobile phones in school for study purposes, such as taking notes, photographing, white boarding and searching the internet.
I have not yet heard of many cases or statements where the mobile phones have found an official place in school. They still generate lots of feelings. Ironically, a tool that billions of people use and take for granted at work still seems to have a long journey ahead of it before it finds context in the classroom. Why is it more provoking when a student uses their phone during class than when an office worker reads mails or sends messages during a meeting?