College of Economic and Management Sciences

Cell phones: tools for learning or cyber bullying?

A group of more than 10 000 secondary school learners participated in three research projects by the Youth Research Unit in CEMS. Some of them attended the first Youth Research Conference with their teachers.

A group of more than 10 000 secondary school learners participated in three research projects by the Youth Research Unit in CEMS. Some of them attended the first Youth Research Conference with their teachers.

Learners are increasingly using their cell phones as a learning tool. Research done by Prof Deon Tustin, head of the Bureau of Market Research (BMR) in the College of Economic and Management Sciences (CEMS) indicates that 24.2 % of learners in secondary schools use their phones to  improve their mathematical skills and 23% use them to search for information for school work in general.

The presentation formed part of a conference by the Youth Research Unit on the Muckleneuk Campus at the end of June.  New research findings on cell phone usage, cyber bullying and drug and substance abuse amongst secondary learners in Gauteng were shared at the conference. The conference was well attended by representatives from schools, as well as the Departments of Communication and Education, amongst others.

Since the introduction of the Mathematical Quiz Application, a fun and interactive way of learning mathematics, some 100 000 secondary learners in Africa use Mxit Africa. Almost 10 million messages are exchanged daily; solving, interacting and discussing mathematical equations, said Mr Sphiwe T Mahlangu, a spokesman for Mxit Africa.

Representatives from Google SA and Mxit Africa urged the Departments of Communication and Education to allow learners to use cell phones in schools – a view supported by Prof Tustin who urged teachers to explore the use of mobile technologies as a learning tool.

“Blocking your child’s access to the Internet is not advised: your child could lose out on some of the social and educational benefits of the Internet” said Mr Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda from Google SA. He added that cell phones don’t only pose dangers (eg cellphone addiction) among school learners; they also play a very progressive role in terms of educating the learners through highly technological advancement.

Bullying in cyber space

Although cell phones can be used to educate learners, access to the Internet via cell phones also provides a foundation for cyber bullying. In a study amongst secondary school learners in Gauteng, by Mrs Goodness Zulu and Prof Deon Tustin of the BMR, 34% of the learners reported that they have been bullied in the past two years. The highest number (42 %) was amongst grade 8 learners.

Learners also reported that they were being bullied more by their peers than any other group, with 60.4 % saying they were bullied by young people. Another 23.3 % of respondents admitted to bullying someone. Cyber bullying takes place predominantly through cell phones (SMS & social media), the researchers found.

Some 37 % of South African youths were victims of cyber aggression, of these, 40.3 % did not report being bullied, while almost 52 % did and 8.9 % were uncertain.

The factors influencing bullying are retaliation, peer pressure, anger, recognition or entertainment, and these factors could actually drive a victim to being physically ill or even suicidal, they found.

Almost 80 % of secondary school learners admitted to having consumed alcohol, while 66.6 % admitted to having been drunk and 44.8 % to binge drinking. The research by Ms Antoinette Basson of the Youth Research Unit was done amongst 4346 learners in randomly selected schools in Gauteng. Almost 60 % said they did it to fit in, 45.6 % said they wanted to get away from their worries and another 34 % said it builds their self-confidence.

“Parents are role models and play a significant role in the lives of children. They need to communicate with their children about substance use and abuse,” said Ms Basson.

Early detection is important

Ms Karabo Kolokoto of the Lapalame Youth Drug Unit of SANCA, Pretoria urged communities to recognise the signs of bullying, drugs and alcohol abuse. She emphasised the need to educate children at an early stage about bullying, drugs and alcohol abuse and the consequences thereof.

“There is a need to manage the unintended consequences of ICTs on children,” said Ms Petronella Linders, Chief Director: Gender, Disability, Youth and Children of the Department of Communications. These include pornographic websites not being monitored for access by children, children using their cell phones to record each other and sending these images around, and the convergence of technology creating enabling platforms for viewing of inappropriate material by children, such as watching pornographic movies on their cell phones.

“The key objective of the Department’s Children and ICT Strategy is to discuss matters pertaining to children and ICTs at national, continental and international level and how government, NGO’s and industry can collaborate on promoting positive participation of children in the ICT environment as contributors, producers or consumers,” she said.

*Story submitted by Ilze Crous and photographs by Tumisho Mashego

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