Mobile phones have conquered Czech schools

Believe it not, several British teachers claimed recently that children who own mobile phones are less likely to start smoking. Having a mobile, they say, is considered a symbol of adulthood, the same as smoking a cigarette. So what about Czech kids? Alena Skodova reports on the situation in the Czech Republic:

A survey carried out last spring showed that almost all secondary-school pupils own mobiles. But it also claimed that mobile phones are starting to conquer primary schools as well. Teachers confirm that mobiles have become an integral part of school life, even for very young children. The director of Prague's Na Smetance primary school, Milan Macek, says mobile phones have been especially popular over the past two years, and they are to be found mostly in the hands of 12- or 13-year-olds. However, ownership is on the rise, and sometimes even 8- or 9-year-olds regularly use mobiles.

A lot of teachers say mobiles in school are a serious problem, but that it's up to the teacher to lay down the law about using mobiles in the classroom. Milan Macek says: Using a mobile during lessons is strictly forbidden in our school, and if a pupil disturbs the lesson using a mobile, it is simply taken away from him and returned later to his parents.

Psychologist Pavel Rican does not see underage mobile use as a problem, unless it is misused, for instance by calling inappropriate numbers. But generally speaking, the problem has split psychologists into two groups: some say why not? We always know where our offspring are, they can call us when their daily programme had changed or when they're in trouble. If they have a problem, they can turn to us quickly and ask for help. And last but certainly not least, a mobile can win them popularity, a feeling that they are equal to their classmates.

Opponents, on the other hand, disagree: mobiles can be harmful for young children, they say. No harmful effects on children's health have yet been proved, but neither have they been ruled out. Second, our children will have less responsibility. They will start coming to school late, because it's so easy just to call and apologise. And relying on other people's decisions, they will never be independent.

The Czech market is flooded with different types of mobile phones. Surprisingly, none of them are designed especially for children. Not yet anyway.