Philippine schools ban cell phones

MANILA, July 21 Kyodo

The near-constant jangle of cellular phones and pagers going off in restaurants, theaters, concerts and commuter trains has become a modern-day irritant known most of the world over.

But irritation alone was not enough for Philippine school officials to have taken the possibly unprecedented step of banning cell phones and pagers in all elementary and high school classrooms in the country.

What tipped the balance to the ban is the fear of high-tech cheating on examinations.

Education Undersecretary Victor Andres Manhit admitted the ban was partly prompted by statements in the press by a prominent senator saying that reports reaching him say the phones are being used for cheating in schools.

Sen. Juan Flavier, however, did not have empirical data or proof.

But Manhit said many schools had already reported disturbances in class because of the gadgets, even if the department has no concrete proof that they have actually been used for cheating either.

“The use of cell phones, specifically text messaging ones, and pagers have diverted the attention of students from their studies. Worse, reports show that text messaging and pagers are causing disturbance to classes and are being used to cheat during examinations,” a government order issued June 29 said.

“In view of this, the use of cellular phones and pagers should be prohibited inside the classrooms, particularly during examinations, to prevent these high-tech gadgets from disrupting classes and being used in cheating.”

In private schools and universities in the Philippines, cell phones and pagers are must-have status symbols for young people and not everyone is happy with the ban.

“I don’t understand why the (authorities) had to make such a rule,” complained Abet, a third-year Ateneo de Manila University high school student who refused to give his last name.

“I use the phone for emergencies and to talk to friends. I don’t think the phone is being used for cheating,” the 16-year-old, phone in hand, said as he prepared to leave school for home.

The Commission on Higher Education, which has jurisdiction over tertiary level students, has not yet issued a countrywide ban on phones and pagers for college students, but some colleges and universities have taken steps on their own.

At Far Eastern University in Manila, school officials say college students are asked to put their communication tools inside their bags, under the table or on the teacher’s desk before the start of an exam.

“It’s possible that it’s a fad, it’s also possible that parents may be using it to communicate with their children,” Manhit said on why so many students have cell phones or pagers.

“As we move toward a technology-driven society these things happen. But we have to draw the line between technology and class discipline.”

Even though cell phones and pagers have become cheaper in the Philippines due to stiff competition in the market, Manhit says the phone-to-the-ear problem is not observed as much in public as in private schools.

Students in public schools are usually from less wealthy backgrounds and grapple with more down-to-earth problems such as finding a chair to sit on in a crowded classroom than missing a cell phone call.

But at the high school department at Ateneo de Manila, a private school that caters to the middle to upper classes, school authorities started banning phones and pagers last school year.

Any cell phone seen in school premises during official school time are confiscated. Pagers must also be kept out of sight, but can be read during breaks.

Jose Gerardo Pavia, associate principal for high school student affairs, said 61 cell phones and 25 pagers were confiscated at Ateneo last school year, while 35 cell phones and one beeper have been grabbed just since the new school year began in June.

Students caught with a cell phone or pager during the banned time are made to write reflections on why they will not repeat the offense. Second time offenders are made to stand outside Pavia’s office for an hour.

The students can retrieve their cell phones, but only after their parents write a note promising their child will not violate the ban again.

But Criselda Rescober, a third-year high school student at the University of the Philippines Integrated School (UPIS), said having a cell phone is absolutely de rigueur for her.

“I got my cell phone last June 26. I told my Mom it’s a necessity. I nagged her into buying me one,” said Rescober, whose mother paid 7,000 pesos (184 dollars) for the phone and also pays her monthly bills.

Roan Cipriano, a second-year high school student at UPIS who was pushing the buttons on her new neon green unit to send text messages, said, “I’ve been carrying a cell phone since I was in grade 6.”

She said her parents gave her a phone because they live far from her school and it takes her a long time to get home.

Angelo Abelo, a senior at Don Bosco High School, said he carries his cell phone to school, but makes sure the phone is out of sight and on silent mode while he is inside the classroom.

Why have a phone then? He said its mostly to “text message” girls.

“Why buy a cell phone if you don’t talk to girls?” the budding lothario winked.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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