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Parents Weigh In On Paying for Mobile Access in Schools

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Would parents pay for mobile phones if schools allowed them to be used as learning tools? Most would, according to the recent Speak Up 2010 report -- 67 percent of parents, to be exact.

We took this data a step further and asked MindShift readers if parents would pay for data plans, specifically to be used for Internet research and classroom projects. Most said they would, some said they’d first want to consider how student searches would be monitored, and a few grumbled about having to pay even more for services the school should provide.

Comments ranged from, "Wow, the school system begging from the parents again" to a more capitulated perspective. "Lately we [parents] get asked to pay for so much extra stuff in schools. We pay the suggested money to feed classroom animals and more for science education materials,” said Baat Enosh, mother of a kindergartner. “If I thought that having phones in class would help kids learn, I'd be pretty positive about it. I equate it to the expensive scientific calculators that our families used to be asked to buy for us."


One reader pointed out that if schools provided wireless access, wifi-enabled phones would obviate the need for data plans.

Stacey Foreman, mother of two grade-school-age sons, said she wouldn’t question paying for monthly plans if they assisted learning. "Kids are native to digital information--we're making it harder for success by pretending that media aren't evolving. Lugging around outdated textbooks and completing paper worksheets are barriers to learning in this day and age.” Lots of students feel the same way.  Project Tomorrow report found that 53 percent of middle and high school students surveyed said that their biggest obstacle to using technology in school is the inability to use devices such as cell and smart phones.

For many parents, the issue of phones in classrooms is about educational gain and safety.

Rashmi Sinha, mother of a preschooler, said her primary concern in sending her daughter to class with phone in hand would be its educational benefit. "How would usage be monitored? How would we be sure kids are using devices to learn? Mobile usage is a skill they need anyhow, but I'd want to know the teachers’ plans before I paid."

Therese Jilek, a Wisconsin-based parent, would request schools to provide a plan for learning, instruction and supervision practices that involve mobile devices. She’d want built-in safeguards and student instruction on safe Internet use, she said.

When it comes to accessing online textbooks with mobile phones, 61 percent of parents said they like the idea, according to the Project Tomorrow report.

"With the Kahn Academy, DIY University and other [resources], eventually we will deconstruct the economies built around traditional educational institutions and all that goes with them--expensive books, curricula, etcetera,” said Jean Hagan, creative director and the think tank Institute for the Future. “The technology is just the enabler, but we are on the brink of education reform like the U.S. has not seen in decades."

The inevitable question looms: What happens to those families who might want to, but can't afford to pay for expensive data plans? The issue bounces back to schools providing wireless Internet access -- and how much of the Internet is blocked. Goes to show how dependent schools, parents, and educators are on each other.

[Additional reporting by arts and culture commentator Emily Goligoski: @emgollie]

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