Cellphone headache for schools

By Tarisai Machakaire

The advent of cellphones, especially smart phones, and their use in recording videos and instantly sharing images is posing new challenges for Zimbabwe’s school administrators.

Mai Chisamba at She Festival
Mai Chisamba at She Festival in the UK

A decade ago, there was relatively little worry over how students might use devices on school grounds. But smartphones have changed all of that.

Last week, Maranatha Group of Schools was forced to issue an apology after its students recorded themselves chanting political slogans.

The school said it disassociates itself from the video that has been circulating on social media of school children in a Maranatha Primary School Bus chanting political slogans of a political party.

This action was neither sanctioned nor supported by the school but was performed by a group of excited minors who were not aware of the impact of their actions which they carried out in enjoyment following a crowd which was demonstrating and singing in the streets.

“Maranatha Group of Schools is an apolitical Christian school which focuses solely on the provision of quality education,” the school said.

In the same week another video went viral of Chisipite Senior School students captured singing and dancing while chanting; ‘‘we are all prostitutes’’.

Also with just the press of a button, students have gained power in confrontational situations with classmates or authoritative figures.

They can also become provocateurs or citizen journalists by posting videos that go viral well beyond the campus community.

Early this month French lawmakers voted to ban mobile phones in public schools and the issue is said to have tapped into the anxiety among many parents over how to limit their children’s screen time, especially in the wake of revelations about invasions of online privacy by technology companies.

The law would forbid the use of all connected devices in schools, except for “educational purposes” or when helpful to handicapped or disabled pupils.

But with the case of Zimbabwe, the newly-adopted educational curriculum embraces the use of technology and its gadgets but results so far reflect that disadvantages are already outweighing the advantages.

Television personality and social commentator Rebecca Chisamba said parents have a huge role to play to safeguard their children from exposure to hate speech, pornography and cyber-bullying while using these gadgets.

“The problem is that parents now do not know what is good for their children. First, there is nothing special about buying a minor a smart phone and I personally feel all children should not be allowed to have phones,” Chisamba said.

“The sooner this issue is solved from home the better because what we are now seeing these children doing is disturbing. We are a people with a culture that must be preserved.

“Parents should not forget that this same generation that is behaving this way is tomorrow’s future and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that we safeguard it.”

Chisamba said there was nothing bad about the new curriculum but parents had ignored their role of teaching and cautioning children about the do’s and don’ts of using some of these gadgets.

“Parents cannot hide behind the new curriculum because it is their duty to educate and advise children on what they expect from their children when they use laptops or tablets that are bought for them for purposes of school work,” Chisamba added.

“The problem has been that parents seem to be too busy to even check on what their children are doing, who they relate with and what content they are exposed to.”

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) children exposed to Internet were susceptible to cyber-bullying which has drastic effects on their social development.

“The bullying of children in all of its forms, including cyber-bullying, can have significant and lifelong physical and mental health effects upon children, as well as many other personal and social consequences for both child victims and perpetrators,” reads a Unicef 2017 report on cyber-bullying.

“ . . . bullying is a serious form of violence against children – the effects of which can include violations of such rights as, inter alia: the right to life, survival and development); the best interests of the child , protection from harm, participation, privacy, information, freedom of thought, the highest attainable standard of health, and education.”

Social worker Anesu Svinurai told the Daily News on Sunday that increased use of technology exposed children to sexual perpetrators and exposure to drug and alcohol abuse.

“Something needs to be done quickly and it has to be the collaboration of family, school authorities and the church and just about everyone who cares about our children,” Svinurai said.

“We have children that have been raped or ended up addicted to drugs and alcohol at tender ages because they had the privilege of owning phones at tender ages.

“I think a parent must perform routine checks on their children’s phones and be aware of who they talk to, what they talk about and everything else that goes on the phone to safeguard their children’s security.”  DailyNews