Schools will have to consult parents on mobile phone usage

The use of mobile phones and tablets in school will be an issue requiring consultation with parents and students, the Minister for Education Richard Bruton has announced.

The Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill 2016 is a new law which mandates schools to consult over certain issues including voluntary contributions and how complaints are dealt with.

The Department of Education has sent out a circular asking schools to engage as soon as possible on how smart phones and other tablet devices should be used in schools, pending the enactment of the charter.

The circular states: “The use of tablet devices and smart phones is now an integral part of the lives of children and young people. While this is a positive development, concerns have been identified including some risks associated with the misuse, abuse and possible overuse of these devices and the various associated technologies.

“Children and young people need to be guided and supported to become good digital citizens. In a school setting, using digital technologies mediated by the teacher with the skills to exploit the potential of the technologies can be invaluable in equipping children with the skills to navigate the online world safely.”

It suggests also that protocols for the use of mobile phones in schools should be drawn up. They should include times when photographs or video are allowed and the ages at which phones, if permitted, should be allowed.

In the circular the department recognised that most schools already have policies in place including an acceptable usage policy. These policies will have to be updated following on from the consultation process.

Mr Bruton said he recognised that mobile phone technology is “fundamentally transforming the world we live in.

“While these changes offer fantastic opportunities for our young people they are also associated with potential risks, which we as a Government are responding to.”

Mr Bruton said the use of smart phones and tablet was “ideal for testing this new approach” and he cited the example of St Brendan’s National School in Blennerville, Co Kerry, as a template for moving forward.

The school has introduced a ban on mobile phones and social media apps outside school hours, following consultations with parents.

The school announced the 11-week pilot programme after issues were raised over messaging groups used by children in sixth class.

It already had a ban on the use of mobile phones during class hours and that ban is being extended to outside school hours as well.

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