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A popular J. cellphone model from Softbank for schoolgoing kids sold as part of a package for families

The Ishikawa Prefectural Assembly recently passed an Ordinance to ban elementary and middle school children from owning cell phones (the ordinance carries no penalties). While there are compelling reasons for doing so, I also wanted to highlight that some parents also have legitimate reasons for giving cell phones to their school children.

A while ago, a friend of mine butted heads with a schoolteacher over her daughter bringing a cell phone to school. My friend felt the cell phone was necessary because she picked her daughter up after school by car. Since there was no parking anywhere in the school vicinity, the only way her daughter could let her mom know school was out – was via the cellphone.  Japanese schools often don’t let kids out on time (due to hansei time or extended cleanup duties, clubs or irregularities in class schedule – homeroom teachers switch timetabled activities around quite a bit) so knowing when to swing the car by for the pick up problematic without the cell phone.

In any event, my friend said her daughter was careful to switch the phone off during school hours and only turn it on after school so she wasn’t being disruptive.  Her daughter also had a very full afterschool schedules – school was sometimes back to back with daily swim practice.

I started giving my eldest child, who is attending a public middle school,  a cell phone last year when he began attending juku (afterschool cram school) in the nearby town. This has proved to be very useful – since the juku teachers also don’t let kids out on time – and because they spend one on one time with kids after 9.30 pm, my son doesn’t get let out sometimes until past 10 pm. You can imagine how helpful the cellphone has been for us – in arranging the pickup time and location. Especially in weather-changeable Japan – with its typhoon weather, winter snow and hail conditions, earth-quake prone conditions, etc.  In our prefecture, we also have a prefectural curfew by-law that bans children from being out at night without being accompanied adult.

Cell phones aren’t just potential devices that promote pedophile crimes, they are also security devices that serve a preventive function – providing quick contact facility and built-in GPS tracking. They can help reduce or eliminate the waiting time for kids standing in dark streets or alleys during pickups, and allow parents to check on their kids’ safety thus keeping them from being victims of crime too.

Hence, there must a better solution to blanket cell phone bans – perhaps a combination of giving schools “teeth” – to confiscate cell phones in the case of disruptive use or abuse of privileges – to enforce rules by having kids leave their cell phones at the door before school – and by legislating that all cell phone providers provide built in safeguards for all cell phones for schoolchildren and that they sell only such models to parents purchasing them for schoolchildren .

Posted below are the links (and excerpts) to two articles, the first a commentary on the ordinance that has been passed by the Ishikawa Prefectural Assembly obliging parents to refrain from giving their schoolchildren cell phones if they are of elementary or junior high school age. This amounts to a blanket ban though, not just during school hours. The ordinance doesn’t carry any penalties though. The second article looks at the UK’s upcoming Education Bill giving the mobile ban “bite”.

Ishikawa on right track by banning kids’ cell phones Daily Yomiuri Jul 2, 2010

– Can children live without mobile phones? Should they? Debate on this topic was sparked by an Ishikawa prefectural ordinance in January.

The rule, a nationwide first, obligates parents to prevent their primary and middle school-age children from carrying cell phones except during disasters and for crime prevention. The ordinance does not impose any punishment for violations.

After six months, however, the rule has not brought about any significant effect, observers point out.

“Students keep bringing cell phones to school, even though they’re banned,” lamented a vice principal at a Kanazawa middle school. If a student is found with a cell phone, school authorities explain the ordinance to the child’s guardians, the vice principal said.

Passed by the Ishikawa Prefectural Assembly last year after being proposed by the assembly’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the cell phone ban follows a series of incidents, including one where a high school student hit a fellow student with a bat over postings on a mobile phone site, and another in which a female middle school student used counterfeit money she received for providing sexual services to a man she met on a mobile phone dating site.

However, crimes involving cell phones and teenagers continued after the ordinance was implemented. In 2010 up to the end of May, police discovered eight primary and middle school girls involved in crimes such as prostitution and pornography, one more than during the same period last year. In one incident, a company employee was arrested for engaging in an obscene act with a female middle school student in Kanazawa. The two met through a dating site she had posted messages on using her cell phone.

Riku Miyamoto, the assembly member who proposed the ordinance, criticized the prefectural government and the board of education for their passivity in enforcing the ordinance, saying, “The ordinance had its teeth pulled out in its application.”

In reality, the prefectural government has been reluctant to regulate the possession of mobile phones from the outset, saying it may infringe on property rights. Even after the ordinance was passed, it did nothing other than distribute pamphlets to schools. Some schools asked parents to cooperate, but many schools resisted, saying, “Parents need to make the final decision,” and, “it’s doubtful the ordinance will be effective since it doesn’t impose any punishment.”

“The fact that parents don’t understand the risks posed by cell phones, and that they tend to indulge their kids is problematic,” Miyamoto said. He does not allow his three daughters–one each in primary, middle and high school–to have a cell phone.

With the rash of incidents involving cell phones and children, including malicious bullying, the issue that the Ishikawa Prefecture ordinance attempts to address is far from small. Schools and regions should continue to help parents face the question of whether their children should have mobile phones.

Ishikawa OK’s kid cell phones Japan Times Jun 30, 2010 Jul 3, 2010


Now teachers can confiscate mobiles in bid for staff to reclaim classrooms (Daily Mail Jul 3, 2010)

Ministers believe that current confiscation powers are too vague and weak, leaving staff and pupils at the mercy of classroom troublemakers.

Mr Gove said: ‘Our Bill will put heads and teachers back in control, giving them a range of tough new powers to deal with bullies and the most disruptive pupils.

Heads will be able to take a zero-tolerance approach and will have the final say.

‘I’ll also give teachers the right to remove disruptive children from the classroom without fear of legal action.

‘They will be able to search pupils for weapons, and items like iPods and mobile phones, and confiscate them.’

The last government introduced legal rights for teachers to search pupils for weapons, alcohol, drugs and stolen goods. But heads say the law prohibits them from searching for anything else.

If teachers suspect pupils of hawking pornography or cigarettes, they are said to have limited powers to search them or confiscate the items.

The latest plans will allow heads to frisk for any item banned under school rules – a move currently outlawed by under human rights legislation.

At the moment, teachers are under a legal obligation to prove their search and confiscation is lawful. But there are plans to introduce a presumption that if the head has banned the item, then it is legal to search for and confiscate it.

Ministers also plan to abolish guidance which says teachers are ‘strongly advised’ not to search children if they object.

The measures will be contained in an education Bill to be introduced this year.

Measures in the pipeline include encouraging schools to introduce uniforms, traditional house systems and prefects.


Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe

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