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Education Agency: Banning smart devices in elementary schools impossible

The Ombudsman for Children said on Monday that young children in elementary school should have their access to and use of smart devices curbed. The chief of the Finnish National Agency for Education says that a full ban on phones and tablets in school is not possible for legal reasons.

Grafiikka, jossa älypuhelin liitutaululla.
Phones are allowed in schools. Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

Ombudsman for Children, Tuomas Kurttila said on Monday that children in the first years of elementary school should not be allowed to use devices such as smart phones and tablets too frequently. Olli-Pekka Heinonen, chief of the Finnish National Agency for Education soon replied that an outright ban on electronic devices in classrooms is not possible legally.

"Current legislation does not allow us to deny students the right to use means of communication during breaks," Heinonen says. "It is possible to restrict use inside the classroom, but only if the devices disturb other students or hinder teaching."

Heinonen says that guidelines on the use of mobile phones are thrashed out together in individual schools and classes, and that smart tech should always be approached in the context of learning and teaching.

Expensive devices

Project chief Sanna Vahtivuori-Hänninen from the Ministry of Education and Culture says she understands the Ombudsman's worry over basic education remaining free of charge to all, as expensive devices may stretch poorer families' budgets.

Vahtivuori-Hänninen says that schools and municipalities must offer every student the tools for equal work and study.

The students' personal phones may be used in a pedagogical capacity if parents verbally deem it acceptable.

"The utilisation of digital solutions in teaching is written in the curricula," Vahtivuori-Hänninen explains. "Smart devices should absolutely be used for pedagogical purposes, but no student is ever expected to own such a device. Schools used to loan out skis and skates to students who needed them, and now that list of items also includes phones and tablets."

Digital natives need instruction, too

Heinonen agrees.

"Learning and reaching goals in free basic education is not based on students using their personal devices. But educational elements are needed, no matter how digitally native the children may be."

Vahtivuori-Hänninen adds that the technological skills of children who have grown up around advanced devices may in some cases be limited to leisure use.

"Every child is able to learn to use these instruments, but it's mostly just browsing and clicking. Children should familiarise themselves with the practical applications of smart devices, and skills needed in learning as well as life more generally. Leisure use and pedagogical use are very different kettles of fish."

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