Monday, November 5, 2007

Free cell phones for students?

New York City is apparently considering giving free cell phones to all students. And then rewarding them with free minutes for high grades/test scores/etc. The ban on cell phones in the schools would continue - these cell phones wouldn't even work during school hours.

I have to admit, this seems like an incredibly poorly conceived plan. Maybe I haven't heard all the details (certainly a possibility), and they actually do have everything well thought-out. But here are some of my questions:
  • Paying students (with cell phone minutes) for good grades? Really? I could go on at some length here, but I'll leave it at that until another day.
  • Part of the reason they're thinking about this is because parents are in an up-roar about the cell phone ban - in case of another 9/11 type emergency during school hours. How will this address that problem? The cell phones won't even work during school hours.
  • Giving one cell phone manufacturer and one cell phone carrier access to all of the students in the NYC schools is rather like giving Coke exclusive access. It's an amazing deal for the company in terms of life-long customer-building, but a bad habit-forming gig for the schools to be taking part of, both in terms of the school's inflow of money and the students' development.
  • What about the students with poor grades? Would they get any free minutes, or would they just have a useless piece of plastic to take care of?
  • Who is responsible if the cell phone is lost or broken, as I guarantee they will be? Are the students required to maintain it? Is the school going to fix and replace the phones?
  • I could go on. But I won't.
The up-sides (and what are those again?) just don't seem to balance out all of these issues.

But now that I've slammed the idea at some length, what do you think? Please be honest! I'd be interested if anyone thinks it's a good idea, and to hear why.

3 comments:

Alice said...

What an odd situation. I sympathize with the ban on cell phones--there are other options for dealing with emergencies and I understand they can be distracting in class.

But it sounds like the mayor is one of those people who, against all evidence, believes that reward and punishment work on human beings the same way they work on trained animals. And that's just not good, coming from a powerful official.

Robert said...

# Paying students for good grades?

I don't see that as a big deal. Not the best carrot, but if it works...

# Part of the reason is because of 9/11 How will this address that problem? The cell phones won't even work during school hours.

Perhaps, in the event of an emergency - the phones could be activated and all sent automated information about the situation and appropriate response.

# Giving one cell phone manufacturer and one cell phone carrier access to all of the students in the NYC schools is rather like giving Coke exclusive access.

Yep. I agree. But is it that much different than a single supplier for desks or textbooks?


# What about the students with poor grades?

They wouldn't be rewarded with free minutes. That's the point.

# Who is responsible if the cell phone is lost or broken

Perhaps a deposit would be required. But a basic cell phone is pretty cheap these days. Most carriers give them away when you sign up.

I don't think this is a great idea, but neither do I see it as that horrible. Misplaced priorities, maybe, but not horrible.

Karen Rayne, Ph.D. said...

My responses to Robert's points:

# Paying students for good grades is a bad idea, for a number of reasons. I'll write up a good post on it soon, and get back to you then.

# In an idea world, sure. But it seems unlikely that if the cops and firefighters can't even communicate, that there would be an informed school district ready to communicate useful information to many thousands of students. And the issue for the parents is that THEY want to be able to contact their students, not someone else.

# It's dramatically more important than a desk or a textbook manufacturer. Students are very unlikely to buy school desks or textbooks much in their future, while they are very likely to buy cell phones and services. And cell phones aren't learning tools. Desks and textbooks are.

# Yes, okay. So they'd just have a useless cell phone. But what's the point then?

# Yes, cell phones are pretty cheap. But the schools are planning on giving them to students - not making them available for a deposit.

It is a poorly conceived idea, but agreed - not one that has any really horrible detrimental effects. Just one that will be an expensive waste of money that could be doing good in other ways.