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Cell Phones in School: Embrace Them or Ban Them?


Boys playing with cell phone
Alistair Berg/Iconica/Getty Images

Question: Cell Phones in School: Embrace Them or Ban Them?

One of the more controversial and most discussed issues that school administrators face on a daily basis is where they stand with students and cell phones. It seems that virtually every school takes a different stance on the issue of cell phones in school. No matter what your school’s policy is, there is no way to completely keep all students from bringing their phones unless you do student searches every day, which is simply not feasible.


The fact is that more and more people have a cell phone including students of all ages. 78% of all teenagers now own a cell phone. They are digital natives and thus experts when it comes to technology. 47% of teens can text with their eyes closed. They are far more adept than most adults at using their cell phones for many purposes.

There are essentially three core stances most school districts have took with their cell phone policies. One such policy basically bans their students from having their cell phones at all. If students are caught with their cell phones, then they can be confiscated or fined or in some cases the student may be suspended. Another common cell phone policy allows students to bring their cell phones to school and allows them to use them during non-instructional times such as time in between classes and lunch. If students are caught with them in class, then they are confiscated from the student. Another cell phone policy is leaning towards a shift in administrators thinking. Students are not only allowed to possess and use their cell phones, but their also encouraged to use them in class as learning tools.

Districts that ban their students from having their cell phones or limit their usage do this for a variety of reasons. Those include not wanting it to make it easy for students to cheat, being afraid that students are sending inappropriate content, playing games, or setting up drug deals. Teachers also feel like they are distracting and disrespectful. All of these are valid concerns and are why this is such a hot issue among school administrators.

The movement towards embracing the use of cell phones by students begins with educating students on proper use of phones at school. Administrators who are shifting towards this policy often say that they are fighting an uphill battle with a policy that has a complete or partial ban on cell phone. Administrators who have transitioned to this type of policy say that their job has become much easier and that they have far fewer issues of cell phone abuse than they did under other policies.

This type of policy also clears the way for teachers to embrace cell phones as a teaching/learning tool. Teachers who have elected to use cell phones in their daily lessons say that their students are actively engaged and more attentive than they typically are. A cell phone can be a power educational tool. Smart phones especially have the ability to provide students with so much information that teachers cannot deny that they can be powerful technological tools in the classroom.

Many teachers are using them for a variety of purposes such as a small group projects with research races and text competitions for correct answers. The website polleverywhere.com allows teachers to ask a question, students then text their answers to a particular number the teacher gives them, and the website collects the data and puts it into a graph, where teachers can discuss the answer choices. The results of these activities have been very positive. Teachers, administrators, and students have all provided positive feedback. Perhaps it is time to move into the 21st century and begin using the resources we have available to engage our students in the learning process more readily.


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