Mobile phones in Sri Lankan schools and ‘China Mobile’
Posted on August 3rd, 2009

Dr.P.A.Samaraweera, China

While travelling in China I saw a news report about a student in a leading school committing suicide as a teacher had reprimanded her for using a mobile phone. In fact, there had been two incidents.
I showed the news item to my Chinese friend who is a teacher and he was indeed shocked that a student committed suicide because of a phone call. In China everyone has a mobile and this also  means that every student both in High school and Middle school has a phone.
At the beginning mobile phones had created problems in China but had not gone this far so as to end one’s life. As I was curious to know how students use phones in schools my friend took me to a school the next day. The Principal who was also sympathetic to the story walked with us around the school.
It was a co-educational school with more than 4000 students and as in other schools students are allowed to bring in phones. They could use them outside class time and the teachers are not the least interested to whom they are calling. What they do outside class hours with the phone is their business as long as they do not bring those ‘problems’  inside the class room. The students seem to know their limits and controls come from their parents as well.
Phones have to be turned off while students are inside the classes. Under no circumstances should anyone be seen in contact with a phone during class time. If a student is seen meddling with a phone or if a phone rings by any chance it is confiscated  and sent to the Principal. No questions asked or explanations accepted. The student will have it back at the end of the semester subject to student’s future conduct. Schools have full support from parents to this policy.
A notice about the rules with regard to the use of phones in schools is on the door of every class room. So both students and parents are fully aware of this policy. Students or for that matter anyone cannot be without a phone even for a day. So students think twice before misusing them in school and getting into hot water.
While walking around the school during the lunch-break we saw students both in the High school and the Middle school using phones freely in the corridors, compound and playground. Obviously, the Chinese system will not work in Sri Lanka. If a phone is confiscated the student’s parent who is well connected will ring the school and the phone is back with the student. The teacher may even  lose the job. So it will be the parents who will break the rule first.
A few years ago, Prime Minister Bob Hawke in Australia was stopped by the Traffic Police and was fined for not wearing the seat belt. This became head-lines in the media that day. Bob Hawke commended the officer and subsequently promoted. We cannot imagine things like this happening in Sri Lanka. So with Chinese mobile phone policy in Sri Lanka.
The situation in Sri Lanka is different. For some, the phone is a status symbol while for others it is a necessity. In the past and still, only students from affluent and influential families use phones. They seem to have used them freely and then suddenly something tragic happens and sends shock waves around the country.
Subsequent to the incident, the views expressed by parents and Heads of Schools confirm that the problem had existed without controls and authorities turned a blind eye. Therefore, hopefully at least now the Ministry circular will put a brake on student use of phones in schools. However, time will tell us how successful it had been.
At the same time it is debatable if the Rule banning mobile phones in schools should apply to the teaching staff and the question may be why should they be penalised?

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