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'It's going to have to disappear'

e-Learning head says schools will have to do away with cellphone ban

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor — features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, February 14, 2014    

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IF Avrill Crawford has her way, the ban on cellphones which several primary and high schools have imposed will be overturned sooner rather than later.

Crawford, who heads e-Learning Jamaica Limited, suggested on Monday that the practice is contradictory to Government's thrust to integrate technology into education.

"Eventually that has to go yuh know. It's going to have to disappear," she told the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange when asked how the project will proceed when it comes time to distribute tablet computers to the 38 selected schools, given that students have been forbidden to carry and/or use mobile phones while at school.

"What has to happen is that it must be managed, and certainly, in terms of the tablets, the parents also, not only the teachers and the students, will have to sign an agreement in terms of use and care of the tablet and the tablets themselves can tell you what sites have been visited and how long they're on the sites for, etc," she said.

"It just has to be managed, and the technology can help you to manage it, but to say that they must not bring the phones to school is nonsense!" Crawford added.

Associate vice-president, office of distance learning in the academic affairs division at the University of Technology Dr Jeannette Bartley-Bryan; chair of ICT4D Jamaica, Robert Stephens; GC Foster College lecturer, Denise Stoney-James; and commissioner and CEO of the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission and chairperson of Eduvision 2014, Maxine Henry-Wilson, who were also guests of the Observer Monday, were in agreement with Crawford.

While they acknowledged that the schools upholding the ban arrived at the position in order to protect teachers from claims of liability and the students from disputes over the instruments, the group said it was not yet clear how the message would be communicated to the institutions in question. "Time will tell," Crawford said.

e-Learning Jamaica has already distributed close to US$52 million worth of desktop and laptop computers, instructional and teacher training materials, computer and audiovisual equipment and networks, and diagnostic tests to 203 educational institutions across the island.

As a final item on that extensive list, there are plans this year to issue tablet computers, mostly to primary and junior high schools.

Already, the project has impacted 500,000 students from grades seven to 11 and trained more than 11,500 teachers, including some college lecturers who pursued master's degrees at the University of British Columbia.

But the thrust, Henry-Wilson noted, is to be viewed in a broader context than a mere distribution of gadgets.

"Technology is a whole ambiance, it's an attitude. (With it) there is a whole new series of values and skills that we have to teach our people, not just students," she said, adding: "Technology is a whole new way of thinking; it's not just about the classroom."

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