‘I believe in this directive as I’ve noticed many students using mobile phones and electronic devices, potentially dulling their cognitive abilities.

“If phone use is reduced, it could rejuvenate their minds,” says Hatha Vat, a parent in Banteay Meanchey province, in support of the recent directive by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport banning smartphone use in class.

In a move to instil academic discipline and better align digital education, the ministry has issued instructions on the use of electronic devices for non-educational purposes in public schools.

While the initiative has received broad support from parents, guardians, teachers and many students, differing opinions do exist.

Educational observers stress the potential of mobile phones in aiding students’ learning, safeguarding against online threats and staying tech-savvy.

Vat tells The Post that he endorses the ministry’s measure. He highlights the dual nature of phones and electronic devices – useful yet misused by some students for gaming, social media, short-form videomaking or livestreaming, leading to time wastage and hindrance to academic progress.

“The directive restricts mobile phone and electronic device usage within classrooms and on school premises. Personally, I endorse this decision, as I’ve noticed a substantial number of young people using these devices, potentially causing cognitive delays. Therefore, curbing screen time could reinvigorate their minds,” he says.

He notes that encouraging the effective and targeted use of phones for educational purposes can be challenging to oversee, as some adults, who are also addicted to their phones, may not set the best examples for children in prioritising reading books.

Conversely, Ouch Thea, a Phnom Penh resident, suggests the directive may not be entirely accurate.

He believes that in the digital age, mobile phones and electronic devices can play a vital role in students’ growth, keeping them updated and enhancing their intelligence, even if occasional entertainment consumption is part of this usage.

“In my opinion, the ministry’s directive might not be entirely accurate because we’re all living in a technological age.

“My Grade 6 son can use a smart phone to access news from around the world, gaining knowledge beyond my expectations,” he notes.

Access to knowledge or hindrance?

Soy Chantha, a Phnom Penh resident, firmly backs the directive. He asserts that in today’s society, nearly everyone owns a smartphone and enjoys constant access to information whenever and wherever they wish.

He also contends that students need not have their phones during school hours as it’s the time for them to acquire knowledge from their teachers.

On the positives of smartphone if used properly, he says: “The phone holds significant importance as it offers more than just communication.

“It provides access to a wide range of knowledge, including learning, lifestyle, society, business and various other subjects that students should explore, in addition to their direct interactions with teachers,” he says.

Pen Touch, a teacher at Angchot Secondary School in Champei commune, of Kampot province’s Angkor Chey district, sees the directive as a valuable tool for schools to enforce policies effectively.

He notes that despite teachers’ reminders about the importance of using phones for educational purposes, students often deviate from this guidance, and that the reinforcement of these guidelines has been somewhat limited.

Touch observes that during breaks, some students persist in playing games, livestreaming or making short videos with their smartphones beyond school premises, including places like pagodas or areas with free wi-fi access. He believes that this behaviour can potentially disrupt their academic progress.

“As a teacher, it’s a challenge when students face difficulties in their learning. We aim to impart knowledge, but in today’s modern era, it appears that students often prioritise their phones over their studies.

“My hope is for students to disengage from this distraction and place greater emphasis on their academic pursuits,” he says.

Try Sarath, a teacher at Hun Sen Prey Nop High School in Sihanoukville, suggests that prohibiting mobile phone usage in primary schools is advisable.

He notes that most primary students use phones for gaming or videomaking rather than studying. However, he believes that if parents can guide their children to use social media platforms for educational purposes suitable for their grade, it could be beneficial.

Sarath also contends that students in secondary or high school benefit from mobile phone usage due to their research and informational needs. In the digital age, vast information is available online, and certain documents may need to be shared between teachers and students via social media and messaging platforms.

“I don’t support students using mobile phones for playing games. However, if they use their phones for educational purposes like conducting research or solving exercises to enhance their knowledge, it’s beneficial,” he says.

Balanced approach

Touch Kandal, principal of Bak Touk High School in Phnom Penh, remarks that the directive is an additional measure for schools to use to implement existing policies more effectively. Instructing students not to use their phones for non-educational purposes, like playing games, was a practice preceding the ministry’s directive.

He states that neither students nor parents have expressed any dissatisfaction or lack of support. Regarding the implementation, his school has adopted a balanced approach to ensure it appears neither overly strict nor too lenient.

“In cases where we find a student not following the guidelines, we hold meetings with both the student and their parents to establish mutual understanding. Our actions are aligned with the regulations, involving discussions with parents to inform them and ensure they comprehend the situation before any measures are undertaken,” he adds.

Kandal explains that students’ mobile phone use can yield two outcomes. If employed for educational purposes, students can access e-libraries containing lessons, research documents, exam materials and other authorised knowledge resources.

If, however, phones are used frivolously, engaging with platforms unrelated to education, it can disrupt the learning process.

Harnessing potential

Vet Mey Mey, a Grade 10 student at Hun Sen Prey Nop High School in Sihanoukville, says the directive has not been communicated at her school. Nevertheless, she believes that such a directive, if in place, would be beneficial and should be rigorously enforced.

She notes that a considerable number of students at her school use their phones for gaming, but only during breaks.

During class, students attentively listen to the teacher without causing disruption. She adds that students in her school always follow specific instructions if provided.

“In my school, students uphold a peaceful learning atmosphere in each classroom throughout school hours due to the presence of appropriate regulations governing classroom conduct.

“Nevertheless, during breaks, some students take pleasure in playing games on their phones. If the school principal were to issue explicit instructions prohibiting gaming on the school premises, the students would readily adhere,” she says.

Duong Chan Choronai, a Grade 11 student at Hun Sen Pramuoy High School in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district, also lends her support to the ministry’s directive.

She says she personally refrains from bringing her phone to school as she deems it inappropriate to engage in gaming on campus.

During breaks or in the absence of teachers, some students do indulge in gaming or social media browsing on their phones. However, Chan Choronai points out that this behaviour isn’t widespread because teachers consistently remind students to limit their phone usage.

Chhot Bunthorng, director of the Institute of Cultural Relations, Education and Tourism at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, expresses his satisfaction with the restriction on mobile phone and electronic device usage in class.

He believes it promotes responsible and effective device use, leading to improved learning outcomes while keeping students abreast of new technologies.

“As both an observer and a parent, I am satisfied with the ministry’s directive. The internet, mobile phones and other electronic devices offer access to information and media broadcasts, which can be perceived as a double-edged sword.

“To counterbalance the negative aspects, there is a need for restrictions and guidance – this, in my opinion, is the right approach,” he says.

He suggests that in this technological era, students ought to be proficient in using smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices.

Schools should dedicate time for instructing students on the proper use of these devices, enabling them to harness their advantages and shield themselves from technology-related scams.

“Using smartphones and modern electronic devices doesn’t imply an inherently negative nature. But it is imperative to employ them wisely and harness their potential for personal benefit, all the while safeguarding the integrity of learning and teaching, and the overarching quality of education,” he emphasises.

Bunthorng tells The Post that he urges all students to exercise responsible usage of smartphones and other electronic devices. He underscores the dual nature of smart devices, exemplifying their capacity to grant access to information, create income opportunities and keep abreast of global development.

He also cautions against their potential for misuse, which includes the peril of excessive gaming, fostering addiction, diminishing the inclination for learning and the neglect of fundamental responsibilities such as household chores and routine tasks.

“Improper use of smart devices, mobile phones, electronics or social media can sometimes have negative consequences, potentially resulting in harm to one’s reputation, integrity or even financial loss.

“Therefore, it is imperative for people to acquire a clear understanding of using these technologies in ways that are advantageous, constructive and conducive to safeguarding wellbeing,” he says.