This study values the utilization of mobile phones that have mushroomed over the past decade in Malawi. Due to the inception of technology in this Southern African country, communication via mobile phones has greatly improved such that Malawi got in touch with state of the art mobile phones and other handheld devices, just to mention a few (Hollow, 2008). Following this development, regarding accessibility of the communication devices “the speedy diffusion of new market driven technology enable(d) their adoption in
education, making mobile learning an increasingly cost effective component of traditional as well as blended open and distance learning” (Masperi and Hollow, 2008). In the same way, the plentiful mobile phones have enabled information to be transferred anytime, anywhere. Equally, Joag (2012) contends that, through mobile phones and other handheld devises, it has been made possible to receive process, store and retrieve information at very swift speed for all practical purposes.
Due to this development, primary school education in
Malawi started enjoying the fruits of technology in its educational sector in 2006 (Masperi and Hollow, 2008). Sharples (2000) made mention of the fact that the information and communication tools recognized by the Department for International Development (DFID) as having developmental potential are becoming increasingly portable, flexible and powerful. Hence, at primary level, handheld devices were introduced to enhance the teaching and learning process as a pilot project. The introduction of such gadgets was done in districts of Karonga in north Malawi and then in Mulanje and Phalombe in the Shire Highlands Education Division, southern Malawi.
At secondary school level, this development saw the introduction of computer studies in a number of schools in the academic year 2000-2001. In the year 2005, computer study was introduced as an optional subject. Following its introduction, the Malawi Government started supplying some computers as part of what is called the Textbook and Learning Materials (MoEST, 2012). The reasons behind the introduction of computer studies include but are not limited to developing a highly competitive ICT education sector, a fast growing competitive, innovative and knowledge based education sector and developing the physical communication infrastructure. Accessibility of technology and its introduction in secondary schools and infusion of mobile phones have contributed to the various innovations in many classroom activities (Edutopia, 2008; Ekanayake et al., 2015). Among the many reasons technology is being introduced in schools is that it enhances and enriches teaching and learning (Edutopia, 2008; Ekanayake et al.,
2015). In addition, the accessibility of mobile phones with the disappearance of telephones and need for parents to communicate with their children in schools, mostly in boarding schools, has seen an increase in the number of the devices in schools.
Prevalence of mobile phones
According to the International Telecommunications Union (Franklin, 2011), there were about 5 billion cell phones globally and, by October, 2011, there were 6 billion subscribers worldwide and approximately 85 billion text messages sent per month, a 450% increase in text messaging from two years before (Franklin, in Walsh,
2012). With the wireless market on the rapid rise and the persistent improvements and enhancements of the cell phone, it only stands to cause those students attending school each day with one of these portable devices in their pockets. Attached with the wireless manufacturing industry offering huge number of capabilities, there is much research and development in creating more powerful and capable cell phones or rather, the latest term, smart phones demonstrated by new models hitting the market almost daily (Gromik, 2012).
According to studies conducted by Gromik (2012) and Cockrane and Bateman (2010), mobile phones now permit users to take pictures, write notes, and make voice recordings or short videos, listen to music, watch audio- visual material, use bilingual dictionaries or language study software, play games, receive radio, send text messages, engage with social-networking and make regular calls. Cockrane and Bateman (2010) contend that mobile technologies are the means of preference for both work and play and are quickly becoming a way of proclamation of the younger generation, a device of personal expression. Robertson and Hagevik (2008) pointed out that smart phones and mobile phones provide the “ability to customize ring tones, skins, photos, songs, to interact via voice and text” and “being seen as an extension of one’s personality”. Hence, it follows that reinforcing the idea that mobile phones are not just a fashion associate, but also the feeling that it truly is an extension of oneself, a reason why mobile phones are so prevalent in school settings, and why they are directly and indirectly influencing education (Robertson and Hagevik, 2008).
Johnson and Kritsonis (2007) further contend that, given the fact that mobile phones are the most accessible technological tool by both teachers and students and also found in both rural and urban areas, effort should be made to investigate its use in schools. Nielson Company (in Goad, 2012) observed that a cut off was revealed in
the data that 77% of teens own their own mobile phone
and an additional 11% had to access by borrowing one. Young adults made use of their phones to text at an average rate of 2,899 times per month. These same teens reported that 93% of their schools had restrictions on their mobile phone use.
Hence, studies carried out in Kenya and South Africa are an insight for they propagate the fact that mobile phones, when used in learning, are as effective as a computers (Traxler and Kukulska-Hulme, 2005; Ford,
2007; Ford and Bachelor, 2007). The two studies alluded to above revealed that students’ learning takes place
through incorporation of text messages, FM radio, calls and camera available on the mobile phones.
Ford (2007) indicated that a mobile phone offers the most easily reached computing devices in the developing world for accessing information resources. Based on this
fact, therefore, using mobile phone, a learner will be able
to have access to information resources by simply sending a text message (SMS) to the service provider from an indispensable mobile phone. In the same vein, mobile phones are common even in areas where schools, books, and computers are scarce (UNESCO,
2012; Librero et al., 2007). It follows that mobile devices provide an excellent passage for extending educational opportunities to students who may have not had access to excellent education. Put differently, mobile phones have the potential of improving educational equity by introducing new media for learning and adding value to
the present educational contributions.
According to Robertson and Hagevik (2008), mobile phones have penetrated almost every part of today’s society; and it is fast turning into an essential part of people’s everyday lives. With the portability and versatility of the cell phone, its reception is growing at a remarkable rate. The smart phone is set to outnumber computers by
2014 at which point in time they are expected to reach
30% of the cell phone market (Cockrane and Bateman,
2010) and over 75% of high school students, one third of elementary and middle school own and use a cell phone (Robertson and Hagevik, 2008). These devices are being used for almost all areas of work and social activities such as to organize appointments and personal contacts, take and store pictures and video, browse the Internet, email, short messaging service (SMS), play music, access radio, make use of global positioning system (GPS), provide access to games and entertainment and, of course, make phone calls (Cockrane and Bateman,
Prevalence of utilization of mobile phones on students’ life
Hollow (2008) contends that, when suitable technology is combined with quality curriculum-based content, it has the potential to have a positive impact on primary education in the developing countries. It has been argued that, when properly deployed, mobile phones have a significant influence on students and these include but are not limited to increased school attendance, reduced dropout rates and improved student/teacher enthusiasm. Further, Hollow (2008) indicates that interactive learning techniques offer potential pedagogical benefits in combining learner centred- and outcome-based activities with continuous assessment of children or students to save information more effectively thus record high grades.
According to Librero et al. (2007), studies have shown that, with appropriate education, utilization of mobile phones, its impact on student achievement can be improved in areas of class participation and test results. Hwang and Chang (2011) and Wolber et al. (2015) further indicate that there is evidence that student participation and student grades increased in mathematics and, at the same time, Gromik (2012) contends that through the incorporation of mobile phones in the classroom, language arts participation increased; on the other hand, it has been observed that there was no irrefutable evidence presented that general student achievement or grades would improve through the use of mobile phones in education. Librero et al. (2007) conclude by stating that mobile phones as educational tools seem to have an effect on student achievement, though further research are necessary.
According to MaConatha et al. (2008), a move toward M-learning, a reasonably new tool in the educational cache, requires a change in thinking and delivery when we consider the student in this digital-learning environment. The student is capable of working on assignments and course-work in places such as riding the bus home from school, waiting for a train or between classes, which, otherwise, would potentially be wasted time. Likewise, Trifonova (2003) reports how filling the gaps of time with 30 s to 10 min learning modules will keep pace with the highly fragmented attention of the ever-moving user. By planning lessons to keep pace with this type of environment and learner, the cell phone makes the move toward M-learning, the tool of choice for such an environment. One can see the impact of such an approach as is evidenced by the research of Librero et al. (2007). Again, Librero et al. (2007) stipulate as to how educational uses of M-learning can afford many benefits as a chosen means for delivery of lessons and outcomes. Some of these include empowering and engaging the learner by making him or her more comfortable for private and personal topics; it is best used as part of a blended learning module; it is not a single solution but one of the tools a teacher has in his/her tool box; it is a two-way communications tool that provides for collaboration and creation; it can lead to more sophisticated uses of information and communications technology (ICT) and the skill associated, and it allows for both the teacher and the student to learn together.
According to the studies done by Mackinnon and Vibert (2002) and Siegle and Foster (2001), it was apparent that the use of mobile devices in classroom was successful in gratifying determination, the ability to apply course-based knowledge, and on the whole academic achievement among students. Additionally, Barak et al. (2006) and Chu (2014) observe that the use of mobile technology, coupled with Wi-Fi connectivity, had improved active investigative learning and was effective in promoting exchanges between students and the instructor in large classes. The study conducted by Trimmel and Bachmann (2004) practically supports the assertion that classrooms with and without the use of technology, students from classrooms with ICT reported to have participated more, to be more interested in learning, and to be more motivated to perform nicely.
Literature has shown that mobile phones, due to their nature, have improved communication and administration. Pouezevara and Khan (2007) and UNESCO (2012) assert that, because messages sent by mobile devices are generally quicker, more dependable, more efficient and less expensive than substitute channels of communication, students and teachers are
increasingly using them to facilitate the exchange of information. On the same premise, there are quite a few projects that are on the go in various regions including Asia, Africa, and North America that are dependent on mobile devices to make more efficient communication between classroom instructors who teach comparable disciplines or groups of students (UNESCO, 2012). On a similar note, South African Biology teachers are utilizing social media program to share lesson plans and instructive ideas through the mobile phones (UNESCO,
2012). Thus, the mobile technology, to a great extent, has the ability to improve instructive and organizational exchange of ideas.
On the other hand, Muir-Herzig (2004) adds that digital technologies can facilitate students to become more lively and independent learners. The interest so created will allow the new knowledge-building communities in which children and adults from around the globe collaborate and learn from each other. Likewise, the access and utilization of mobile technology aid in the creation of communities of students where they did not exist before. According to UNESCO (2012), it has been contended that a project in South Africa about Yoza Cello phone Stories provided a platform for students to examine and to comment on short stories through the usage of reasonably priced mobile phones. In this manner, a community of readers was built in areas where physical books are inadequate. Furthermore, in line with the utilization of mobile phones, students taking the same class are able to utilize their mobile handsets to share ideas, information and resources in a virtual space (UNESCO, 2012).
Librero et al. (2007) and Prensky (2005) indicate that score of teachers in far-off countries by now use cell phones as a learning tool. Repeatedly difficult to get to areas connections to internet using cell phones are easier to access than connections by way of computers (Shinn, 2009). In such context, the usage of cell phones is said to be less expensive. Norris and Soloway (2009) indicate that some teachers in isolated areas have been forced to reverse the practice of supplying laptop per child as a result of ever-increasing costs. It follows that the portability of the cell phones, online access, and device applications could permit and support students to further learning opportunities and group collaboration (Chen-Chung et al., 2006).
According to Earl (2012), the majority of schools consent to students to possess mobile phones for security as a reaction to the Littleton, Colorado, high school shooting experience of 1999, it was after that that parents started the use of mobile phones in schools as they sought to be close with their children at all times. Except for such emergency conditions, not nearly all schools formally allow students to use cell phones during class time. Following the argument, mobile phones are completely outlawed in most schools except when the issue of safety comes into play; it is when mobile phones are regarded as a tool for communication for ascertaining the safety of the students.
METHODOLOGY Research design
This study made use of both descriptive and comparative research designs. Awoniyi et al. (2011) state that “descriptive survey is usually prompted by the need to know what current situation is with regard to a particular educational planning problem”. Furthermore, “descriptive research is an important type of study which usually uses mainly questionnaires and interviews in order to determine opinions, attitudes, preferences and perceptions of interest to the researcher” (Gay et al.,
2006). With comparative research, Awoniyi et al. (2011) contend that this type of “research attempt to establish cause – effect relationship and further involve group comparisons. Hence, the study took a look at the perceptions of educators and students on the use of
mobile phones as regards their effect on students’
academic and social life in government boarding schools of Shire Highlands Education Division, Southern Malawi.
The Shire Highlands Education Division (SHED) in the southern region of Malawi has a total of four (4) government boarding secondary schools (EMIS, 2011). Apart from these, there is also what is known as Conventional, Community and Open Day Secondary Schools, as well as private secondary schools. Private schools include those that are owned by individuals or are operated by church organizations and are not government-aided. The researchers chose purposefully the government boarding secondary schools for it is where most cases of mobile phones reportedly are in high prevalence because the parents give their children the phones for keeping in touch (Kafyulilo, 2012; Mullen,
2006). The Division has an Education Division Manager,
4 District Education Managers, 4 school heads, 109 teachers, and 2,145 students.
The study used both purposive and cluster sampling in order to come up with the respondents who participated. By the use of the purposive sampling technique, four (4) secondary schools were selected for the study. The schools selected had boarding facilities, implying that students reside at the school. Through cluster sampling, which involves group comparisons (Awoniyi et al., 2011), the study settled for all the 109 teachers in the four
secondary schools and all 480 form four students from the total of 2,145. The researchers settled for all form four students. Olofinniyi et al. (2012), in their study, noted that a larger proportion of students in the senior secondary school have higher access to the mobile phones than the lower secondary school students, hence being able to give relevant information required for this study. In addition, form 4 students were chosen because they had experienced secondary school life longer than their senior counterparts in form 3 had. On the part of educators, the researchers expected that educators be more conversant with what happens in schools as far as mobile phones are concerned. This means that the respondents targeted in the study were five hundred and ninety eight (598). Due to some factors beyond the researchers’ control, 444 respondents took part, representing 74% with all the groups significantly represented. Hence, in a way, the study was affected resulting in non-normal distribution of teachers’ population. The study chose cluster sampling for the respondents stratified in respective groups of students, teachers, head teachers, district education managers and education division manager.
This study used questionnaires as instruments for the collection of data. The questionnaire was developed from research questions and review of related literature and studies. The questionnaires were modelled on a four point Likert scale numbered as 4 = Always, 3 = Often, 2 = Sometimes, 1 = Never. This scale was applicable for Section B on Prevalence of Utilization of Mobile Phones on academic and social life. Likewise, scale numbered as
4 = Agree, 3 = Tend to agree, 2 = Tend to disagree, 1 = Disagree was used for Section C on Effects of Utilization of mobile phones on student academic and Social life. These points represented the frequency of Utilization and Effects of Mobile Phones Utilization by the respondents on the statements listed on the questionnaires. The respondents were asked to tick inside the box that best described their best opinion on the given point.
The questionnaires were settled for because they enabled the researchers to capture the prevalence of mobile phones utilization on students and educators’ academic and social achievement in government boarding secondary schools in SHED within the shortest period of time. Furthermore, the questionnaire enabled flexibility and confidentiality on the part of the respondents (Awoniyi et al., 2011).
Research instruments’ validity and reliability
For the sake of this study, the researchers tested the questionnaires in order to establish their suitability. Yin
(2003) contends that there are two common tests that are used on a regular basis to examine the quality of any social research: content validity and reliability.
Validity refers to the extent a research instrument measures what it claims to measure (Merrian, 2009). It is the extent to which scores and the conclusions based on these scores can be used for the intended purpose of the data collection instrument. In other words, validity is the degree to which results obtained from the analysis of the data actually represents the phenomena under study. The research instrument was given to experts to appraise their applicability and suitability. The responses given were used to make adjustments on the questionnaire, which to the highest degree improved the instruments.
According to Awoniyi et al. (2011), reliability of an instrument is its ability to measure consistently under varying conditions and at different times. A reliable measurement is one that if repeated would yield the same results as it did the first time. In order to ensure that the questionnaire constructed was reliable, the researchers conducted a pilot study at Ntcheu government boarding school in Central West Education Division (CWED) in the Central region of Malawi, whose respondents have the same characteristics as those of the target population. Thirty (30) respondents took part in the pilot study from which reliability was established by computing Cronbach’s Alpha Coefficient. The alpha coefficients of 0.651 (Academic Life) and 0.603 (Social Life) were yielded, which meant that the questionnaire was reliable.