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Smart Up, Classroom!



I have an eighth-grade cousin, Yoobin, whose Samsung Galaxy almost became like her own hands. Not that she is addicted to her smartphone or something, since she knows when and how to stop-for example, at a Thanksgiving dinner table-but the phone simply allows her to do casual daily stuff. Yoobin talks to her friends, draws her favorite cartoon character, catches up with classroom gossip she might have missed, or looks up something on Naver which is an equivalent of Google in South Korea. The list goes on endlessly. With her phone, Yoobin does what I used to do with my desktop and her parents with a paper and a pen or in person at her age. If there is a difference, it’s the fact that she and her friends do age-appropriate things with a little bit of help from advanced technology. But at school, her generation is forced to act in a way people used to do almost a half-century ago. And I find it absurd.


In Seoul, it has been almost a decade since schools started banning cell phones from the classroom. My cousin’s school, for example, requires her to hand in her cell phone to the teacher before the class begins. There are some schools, with a stricter rule that punish students caught bringing a smartphone on to the premises. Athens and Paris have recently introduced a similar regulation at the government level. New York has forbidden students to use cell phones in the classroom for several years already. The justification behind this worldwide movement is more or less similar: that students are distracted from learning by the technology in their hands. It’s a pity to see a right diagnosis ending up with a wrong solution.


Yes, students can be distracted from their textbooks and lectures because of the presence of a smartphone, but so are they from their conversation with friends, family time, or their own study outside of the classroom. Our daily lives are flooded with numerous triggers of distractions that we have to constantly deal with. What schools need to do, therefore, is not simply take away the source of distraction from the students, assuming that the classroom is some sort of a sacred, tech-inviolable place, unlike the real world. Instead, students need to be able to learn how to manage the technology. I assume that to our kids, the phones are like pencils and scissors. You don’t prohibit the sharp tools because kids might hurt others using them, you instruct the kids how to handle them appropriately and make use of them.


Besides, students may even learn better by taking advantage of the technology in their hands. Education experts have long pointed out that the importance of encyclopedic knowledge has diminished over time. With the incredible capability enabled by the technology at everyone’s disposal, kids and teachers nowadays can adjust their time and energy away from tedious disciplinary worries toward for debates, critical thinking, and creative abilities.


I am not suggesting, of course, that students should be freely allowed to play with their phones in class. However, when the classroom can find the technology beneficial to the process of learning, why not equip students with Google Maps, Wikipedia, Planner Pro, Duolingo, NYTimes, and tens of thousands more? For instance, I said earlier that my dear cousin likes drawing cartoon characters. As far as I know, the majority of leading cartoonists in South Korea do their jobs with a drawing tablet. Although there is no way my aunt would buy that gadget for my cousin, with a drawing app available on her Samsung phone and a tiny electronic drawing pen, she enjoys almost the same function as the professional cartoonists do with their tablet. Expectedly, Yoobin says that she gets her best result on the phone, rather than on hard paper, as the app allows her a great degree of freedom to readily share, revise, copy, compare, or color her work.


It is neither desirable nor possible to treat technologies based on a binary standard since it is not a yes or no choice we can have toward our tech-abundant life. Technology is already part of our life. If you don’t like it, you may have an option not to use it for yourself. But certainly, you cannot completely ban technology from society. So, while the whole world is changing, why isn’t the classroom?

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