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iSherig and ban on students’ use of ICT-enabled mobile devices in schools

Bhutan Education Blueprint is a mother of educational policy document that aspires to elevate the standards of Bhutanese Education System in ten-year from 2014 onwards. Eight shifts, 40 game-changing initiatives, and three waves drive the elevation. The eight shifts comprise overarching areas of elevation: (1) enhancing equity to education, (2) revamping curriculum and assessment to enrich student learning, (3) raising learning outcomes of students comparable to international standard, (4) transforming teaching into a profession of choice, (5) ensuring high-performing schools and leaders, (6) leveraging ICT for learning, (7) enhancing values education and wellbeing, and (8) system transformation, delivery capabilities and capacities. The eight shifts have 40 game-changing initiatives as indicators of achievement progress and three waves as milestones on the ten-year elevation continuum of the shifts. The blueprint is available for public consumption on http://www.education.gov.bt.

From the outset, I must bare my appreciation of the blueprint because I am one of its many beneficiaries. However, some concerns naturally accompany appreciations, and I am concerned by an apparent gap in synching the 6th shift, i.e., leveraging ICT for learning, enhancing values education, and wellbeing with social media platforms.  One of the initiatives to elevate the ICT part of the 6th shift is iSherig, the education ICT master plan. The envisaged outcomes of iSherig are enhanced capacities of educators, students, and support staff to use ICT, ICT integrated curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment, and expanded ICT infrastructure and system as its outcomes. However, many schools ban their students from using ICT-enabled mobile devices in the class.

Teachers must be fully prepared to teach and students must be fully prepared to learn. While books are conventional references for learning, the 21st century communication technologies are fast becoming preferred alternatives. The internet, the data package, the videos, the audio recordings, and the visual recordings are readily available throughout Bhutan. The Bhutanese use these technologies on their smart phones to meet their communication needs.  These technologies drive social media, such as Baidu Tieba, Facebook (and its associated Facebook Messenger), Google+, Myspace, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter, Viber, VK, WeChat, Weibo, WhatsApp, Wikia, YouTube, Ozone, reddit, Ask.fm, Flickr, Odnoklassniki, Skype, and Meetup. These social media platforms are user-friendly and require minimal functional literacy in the users, which make them popular among the users. 

The social media platforms have potential to bring teaching and learning to teachers and students’ personal smart phones and laptops. Teachers can self-apprise their teaching skills, discuss learning needs with fellow teachers and parents, follow teaching models, take lessons, post questions, request for comments, participate in conferences and seminars, and organise webinars. Likewise, students can self-regulate their learning, take notes, record class activities, discuss learning needs with teachers and friends, follow alternative models and lessons, post questions, and request for feedback. All these are doable with social media technologies on smart phones, and they can even happen across geographical boundaries. However, whether teachers and students use the technologies and the platforms for enhancing their teaching and learning behaviors is unknown because ICT-enabled mobile devices are banned in most of the schools.

Most schools in Thimphu, a city where the headquarters of the two giant ICT service providers are located, have a policy that bans the use of ICT enabling gadgets in the class. Of-course, for students with ICT as one of the taught subjects, they have class in computer laboratories. There maybe good reasons behind the ban policy, but the ban is certainly a drag on iShering—it closes teachers and students’ access to sea of teaching and learning outcomes that the 21st Century technology contributes towards education. One such contribution is through social media platforms.

Social media afford their users to post their feelings outward and invite conversations, that is, social media allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content. The affordances of social media from posting feelings and to soliciting conversations have potentials to bring changes at individual, industrial, societal, and global levels. Reflective thinking, collaborative learning, and expanding learning through informal and formal settings facilitate changes, which result in high student achievement and teacher professional development. Studies report high level of engagements with social media in educational settings; albeit in Bhutanese schools. Further, studies have mapped activities on social media platforms to pedagogical implications. For example, video streaming to real time event and model, information and resource capturing and collaboration; geo tagging to enabling rich information sharing; micro-blogging to asynchronous communication, collaboration, and support; text notifications to scaffolding, learning, and administrative support; direct image and video blogging to student journals, e-portfolios, presentations, peer and lecturer critiques; enhanced student podcasts to situated learning; and social network to formative peer and teacher feedback. 

Studies also point out a wide-ranging use of social media in educational settings. They increase student motivation and involvement, fulfil ways of collaborative and participative learning, capitalise on students’ familiarity with social media, improve the quality of teaching, facilitate experiment with social media tools, and enable the sharing of content materials easily. While the potentials of social media platforms are wide-ranging, the studies also note that users’ age, gender, and experience make difference in use of social media for personal and professional purposes. Similarly, students and teachers’ attitudes towards using social media are known to influence how they use social media in educational settings, with positive attitudes resulting in greater use of social media. 

What do studies say about adverse implications of using social media in educational settings? Some commonly reported adverse implications are: students’ distraction, traditional roles, privacy management, issues related to the relationship with students, workload, pedagogical effectiveness and diffusion among students, time consumption, institutional support, technical integration among tools, lack of integrity of online submission, lack of confidence, and lack of interoperability with school-based ICT learning environments. I do not know if most of the schools in Bhutan are holding the ban policy for similar reasons.

Whatever maybe the reasons, the ban has implications. Knowledge about the potential benefits of social media platforms should lead to the use of social media in educational settings. However, social media users will harvest the potential benefits only when they are aware of the benefits. The social media users’ awareness of the benefits may motivate them to continue using the social media platforms for meeting their educational needs, which may make positive changes in their educational and career pursuits. It is possible to enhance such changes when barriers and challenges to using social media are known and relevant mitigating measures developed.  Therefore, instead of banning the ICT gadgets in the class, schools must encourage teachers, students, and parents to use them for integrating the 21stCentury ICT technologies with teaching and learning in the class. The answer should result in synching iSherig with social media platforms and mobile devices in our teaching and learning environment.

 

Contributed by 

Gembo Tshering (PhD)

Lecture

Paro College of Education

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