Should Schools Subsidize Mobile Phones for Kids?

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If Project K-Nect is proof that at-risk kids benefit from access to smart phones (many of them, the founder Shawn Gross says, have gone on to take Advanced Placement math classes), what happens to those who don't have smart phones?

A reader asks:

My question for the group discussion is that because many of my socio-economically challenged students don't have the capability to engage in education via smart phone technology, how do I get them to ride the wave too? I am still challenged to get many of them to do any last century style pen and paper academics.

I asked K-Nect's Gross to elaborate, and here's his response:

"Statistically, teenagers rank as the fast growing segment for smart phones. As a result, we will see the disparity between the haves and have-nots begin to erode. Nevertheless, a digital divide at some level will always exist. In such cases whereby a student is not able to afford access to these types of devices, school systems need to help subsidize access.


The FCC has taken the first step towards examining providing funding to school systems for use of mobile devices by students off campus. If the program is successful, schools will be able to tap into a very large funding pool to help eliminate some of the inequities.

Finally, regarding the concerning engagement, our research indicates that students feel largely disconnected in math and science when utilizing a 20th century model that encompasses paper and pencil. This is a population that seeks manipulative and multimedia and wants to use social networking as a means from which to solve instructional problems. After all, this is how they solve all of their social problems."

The FCC reference Gross is eluding to is the $9 million program called "Learning On-the-Go" that will be "piloted in 14 states and will fund wireless broadband for 10 laptop programs, two virtual schools, three handheld device programs," as well as one program in New Orleans that will "give third through sixth graders access to wireless data cards," according to ReadWriteWeb.

That's in near future. Read how teacher Bill Ferriter finds ways to include those who don't have the phones in his classrooms today.

Another interesting point to add to the dialogue: From the Speak Up 2010 survey, parents are willing to buy their kids mobile phones -- if the school allowed it.