Barbados: Minister says cell phone ban in schools was a mistake

Barbados Today:-Minister of Education Ronald Jones says his 2009 decision to ban cell phones in schools was a “mistake”.

“In Barbados, sometimes out of fear, we are caught up in discussions over whether we should have mobile phones in schools, and I admit banning the use of technology was a mistake I made.

“In all honesty, the envelope is being pushed open more than in the past, and if our students are to learn effectively, it is important that they are connected not only to the knowledge flow emanating from the teacher in the classroom, but that they get exposed to information from across the world,” he told the launch of the Caribbean Examinations Council’s CXC Connect new mobile app at Sky Mall Wednesday afternoon, adding that he would have more to say on the matter in a few weeks time.

While likening some aspects of the worldwide web to “the Wild West”, the Minister of Education said these elements could be tamed and put to more positive use. He commended CXC for the “dizzying pace” at which it was embracing information and communications technology.

Just two months ago, the President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) Mary Redman stepped up her warning to the Jones-led ministry not to allow cell phones in schools, saying these devices will only exacerbate the problem of gang activity and pose a major security threat to schools.

Speaking to Barbados TODAY amid concerns about violence in schools, Redman said a troubling trend had emerged where students affiliated with gangs from various communities used their mobile devices to call for backup whenever there was conflict with other students.

“If there is a quarrel during the day in the school you have some students who are affiliated with gangs and I have gotten this report that the student would use the cell phone to call for support and assistance. So by the time school ends, either just outside of the school gates or in the environs of the school there is a mob to assist the member who felt that in some way he or she was being ‘unfaired’. By the end of day you have a group outside to beat up somebody,” she explained at the time.

However, Jones who had announced as far back as 2015 that he was open to lifting the ban on cell phones, as they were learning instruments, added Wednesday that “you have to stay current and in step with the times”.

Keynote speaker Gabriel Abed of BITT Inc. also applauded CXC for taking “a step in the right direction towards efficiencies, serving your customer better, reducing the cost of operations, ensuring customers are informed and ensuring students are receiving advice based on data from multiple sources”.

“I want to see Government embracing technology and looking at how we can reduce the human inefficiencies of having to stand in line or go through cumbersome processes to access information,” he added.

Jones admitted that Government was indeed moving in that direction, but said there was still some fear on the part of stakeholders who “feel they will have to take their hands off, but in truth, the hands and technology have to become one”.

He made reference to passport applications, which were now done online and delivered to the customer’s door, but pointed out that immigration officers would still be required to stamp them at the island’s ports of entry.

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