School cell phone bans gaining momentum in Japan
Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 21, 2008
“I didn’t realize there were so many things in the world I don’t need.
- Socrates, describing his impressions on visiting the marketplace
GROWING NUMBERS of Japanese officials are concluding that one of the things children don’t need is cell phones in their book bags. The trend among local governments is to either slap an outright ban on students bringing cell phones to primary and junior high schools, or to allow only those with severely limited functions.
Osaka Metropolitan District Governor Hashimoto Toru, an attorney and television personality known for his outspoken views on government waste and the malignancy of Kasumigaseki, the catch-all term for the national governmental bureaucracy, is also supporter of back-to-basics education. He’s had some well-publicized run-ins with teachers’ unions in Osaka, starting with his call for a performance-based wage system for teachers. (Speaking of these unions in the U.S. Jonah Goldberg remarked, “No group is more committed to putting ideological blather and self-interest before the public good.” He might as well have been speaking of Japan.)
Gov. Hashimoto’s willingness to take a public stand, no matter how outrageous, means his every word and deed are now automatically national news. Thus, his announcement earlier this month of a general ban on cell phones for the metropolitan district’s primary and junior high schools focused national attention on an issue that had been percolating at the local level. Even in the governor’s jurisdiction, 88% of primary schools and 94% of junior high schools had already banned them. These are not casual decisions–Osaka surveys show that 32% of grade 6 pupils, 68% of grade 9 pupils, and 91% of grade 12 have the devices.
The governor said the high-tech toys are a distraction for students and the prohibition will be conducive to concentrating on studies. He also moved to reassure parents the prefecture will be examining ways to provide a guarantee that their children are actually attending school or to confirm their location. One way to do this would be to allow phones capable only of telephonic communication or with a GPS function.
This drew the attention of Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Hatoyama Kunio. His ministry is responsible for regulating cell phone use in the country. Said Mr. Hatoyama:
“Banishing cell phones from educational institutions is truly correct…While cell phones are convenient, it is an undoubted fact that cell phones have aspects that are dehumanizing. (For one thing), people lose conversational ability.
Other reasons cited for the ban were the increase in bullying and crimes caused by the use of some cell phone sites, and the decline of scholastic achievement resulting from an inability to concentrate exacerbated by too much time spent using cell phones.
Now this week, a national government council on rebuilding education launched during the Abe Administration and reorganized during the Fukuda Administration created a subcommittee to study cell phone use in schools. The council is also recommending a de facto ban that limits devices to talk-only phones with GPS functions
The council emphasizes the role that families and the community must play in regulating cell phone use among the young. They urge that parents use filtering services for their children’s devices. They also suggest that more public phones be installed in train stations and schools to allay parental concerns about communicating with their children. They plan to submit a full policy recommendation in three years.
Finding ways to enable working parents to keep tabs on their kids is the key, of course. If it weren’t for that, cell phones would have no more business being in a classroom than comic books.
A quarter of a century ago, the Japanese public swallowed the line from Japanese educators that the school system needed to become more like that in America. Many Japanese now regret that their schools succeeded in following that model all too well, considering the subsequent deterioration in academic accomplishments and personal discipline in public schools since then. Over the past few years, the movement to reclaim quality education in Japan has been picking up steam. A cell phone ban is another step forward in that movement.
Afterwords: Note that high schools are exempt from Governor Hashimoto’s ban. There’s a reason for that: the Japanese have a clearer awareness than Americans (for example) that compulsory education ends at age 15. The decision to continue their classroom education is optional and in their own hands. Teenagers who want to attend a good college and enter one of the professions must take entrance exams for admission to a good academic high school. As a consequence, the average Japanese high school student has a more proactive approach to his education than his counterpart in the United States. That in turn seems to lead to an earlier formation of a sense of purpose in life. Very broadly speaking, Japanese high school students tend to behave with more self-assurance than those in America.
Of course Americans that age get to operate motor vehicles, work regularly at part-time jobs, and have the chance to enjoy a full schedule of social activities both at school (sponsored dance parties on the premises, for example) and on their own outside of school. I’m not convinced that the head start of a few years in these activities constitutes an advantage in life, however.
This entry was posted on Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 8:02 pm and is filed under Education, Social trends. Tagged: Cell Phones, Education, Hashimoto T., Hatoyama K., Japan, Osaka. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.