Tuomas Kurttila, the Ombudsman for Children in Finland, underscores that every child should have equal opportunities to learn.Tuomas Kurttila, the Ombudsman for Children in Finland, has expressed his concern over the repercussions of allowing children to use their own smartphones in the classroom on educational equality.

One in ten children in Finland, he highlights, live in a family defined as poor.

“Over 30,000 children live in a family whose main concern is getting by. It's the responsibility of the providers of teaching to safeguard the equality of free basic education, also in regards to learning materials,” he says.

Kurttila also acknowledges that children use smartphones widely outside school. “That's true, but the school environment should ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to learn.”

The fact that the practices are subject to considerable regional variation is another concern for the Ombudsman for Children. He believes a nationwide debate on the definition of free education is warranted.

The use of personal smartphones in schools has also stirred up debate abroad, says Reijo Kupiainen, a professor at the School of Education of the University of Tampere. “In North America, a pedagogical movement called bring your own devices is becoming more common. It's founded on the idea that pupils prefer to use devices they are used to and know how to use.”

The drawback of the phenomenon is that not everyone can necessarily afford their own devices. Kupiainen proposes that schools address the issue by acquiring a few devices for common use, even if it was impossible to provide every child with a device of their own. “Not everyone has their own skis, but most schools have a few pairs of skis available to borrow,” he reminds.

In addition, Kupiainen reminds that the use of smart devices should not be an objective in itself but rather a pedagogical choice. “The classroom is no longer a place where teachers pass on information to pupils. Instead, information is also produced outside the classroom with the help of technology.”

Kupiainen in his study in 2010 observed that the approaches of teachers to the use of handsets in the classroom vary. The fact that some choose to permit the use of smart devices and others do not can lead to conflicts, he believes. “The use of personal mobile devices in school requires common ground-rules – ones that haven't been dictated by teachers but defined together with the pupils. If the pupils can influence the rules, it will be easier to commit to them.”

Pauliina Grönholm – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Seppo Samuli / Lehtikuva