Home News At school the problem is not the smartphone – Massimo Mantellini

At school the problem is not the smartphone – Massimo Mantellini

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At school the problem is not the smartphone – Massimo Mantellini

A small public discussion has been going on for a few weeks on an important topic. The question is whether, in an age where their use has gradually spread to younger and younger children, mobile phones should be banned in school or not.

The initiative of some principals, who at the beginning of the school year announced free lessons from smartphones in their classes – the phones will be delivered by the children at the beginning of the lessons and returned at the end of the day – has sparked predictable conflicts.

The two fronts involved in the discussion are well defined. On the one hand, the powerful conservative spirit that fills every corner of our country, that a thousand times quoted sentiment of rejection of any change that is particularly strong when such a danger is mediated by technology. On the other hand, the small resistant inspiration of those who, even in Italy, would like to observe their world finally in step with the times, a feeling that on some occasions leads to a positive prejudice towards every technology.

In any case, the variables to be invoked regarding the “smartphone at school” theme remain many. Meanwhile, there are enormous differences in approach between elementary, middle or high schools, there are also didactic schemes that involve the use of smartphones in particular types of lessons, for example those of digital education; in short, more or less rigid approaches and more or less broad exceptions to the ban will be possible which, moreover, from a strictly technical point of view, would already be foreseen by an old indication of the Minister of Education Giuseppe Fioroni in 2007.

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I’m afraid there isn’t much to discuss about the distracting effect of smartphones on math or philosophy lessons in our kids’ pockets, and there are also convincing sociological studies that confirm this. On the possibility of imagining a new didactic in which the smartphone is placed at the center of the educational project, at least partly also foreseen by the digital school plan currently in force, it would be appropriate not to have too many illusions: it is one of the many fascinating ideas that the internet has suggested to us but that clashes with some rather clear evidence.

At the moment the digital culture of teachers is missing, the digital infrastructure that supports it is missing, and above all – the digital culture of children, who use the technologies at their disposal for other purposes and in other directions than didactic ones, is missing. This is a long list of skills that cannot be taken for granted and cannot be improvised. Skills ranging from understanding the complexity of digital environments, in which good and bad are extraordinarily mixed for the first time, to technical skills useful for choosing one’s sources independently, avoiding the pitfalls of a communication that is always one step ahead , also in terms of sophistication, compared to the target audience.

The smartphone thus imposes its totipotent characteristics on all of us but the result of such flexibility very often materializes in a great confusion under the sky.

After all, this is the aspect that we have learned to know better in these twenty-five years of networking: the considerable distance between the potential of digital environments and the concrete results that are obtained when such social practices are implemented.

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The distance between the possible and the probable in digital environments seems very large for now

A digital school made up of digitally competent people (teachers and students) would not have the slightest problem understanding smartphones (along with many other shining technologies) inside the basket of their teaching options and, thanks to them, transforming into a very bright garland, incomparably better than any previous school. But as always happens, the distance between the possible and the probable in digital environments seems very large for now.

While faced with such doubts the technophobe will rub his hands seeing his prejudices confirmed, the techno-enthusiast will answer that if you don’t start somewhere, nothing in this country will ever change. Do you want to stay with the nib and the ink ?, he will apostrophize angrily. Change is made by starting to change step by step, he will say soon after. And he certainly will have the reasons for him.

My previous experiences as a stubborn techno-enthusiast indicate with abundance of individual cases that, in places where digital culture is lacking, the internet does not always free the minds and indeed often exacerbates disparities and tensions, complicates problems instead of solving them, reveals – above all – the less edifying aspects of our character with a precision never achieved in the past.

The discussion on the ban on smartphones at school is not about the diatribe between the old that resists and the new that advances, between the world of the past and that of tomorrow, but between two new worlds that today, within digital networks, travel one next to each other. That perfectible and a thousand times desired of a technology that is there at hand and that certainly tomorrow (always tomorrow) will improve our way of working, our relationships with others, our culture and therefore also our way of studying, and that of another new world in which technology has entered without asking permission and has revolutionized our lives with results that are not always positive, without in any case we find anything to complain about.

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In this second world, which today is the largely dominant one, there are no great doubts that for now on the question of smartphones in the pockets of our children at school some caution would be useful.

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