Dr Pooja Birwatkar
Parents nowadays are thankful to schools for keeping their children away from mobiles as long as they are in schools. This means additional work for the schools from forming new rules and repeatedly communicating them to the students to confiscating mobile phones from classrooms as and when they are found. However, COVID 19 had both the parents and the schools hand over smart phones to children. Hands that were used to flipping pages of textbooks and storybooks, writing in notebooks, coming in touch with other human beings and doing a lot more got restricted to the smart phones. There was an assumption that once the society recovered from the pandemic, traditional schools and classrooms would be back.
Post COVID, classrooms did return to their old self with continuation of the same pedagogical practices, evaluation, and dominance of real time contact-based learning. A lot did fall back in place as assumed. The children, however, did not. Post COVID they returned to school with major changes in behaviour and personalities. Changes that now made them misfits. Changes the schools and parents are trying to accept, comprehend, and deal with.
This “New Normal” has brought with it a plethora of new terms including Smombie, Phubbing, and Nomophobia. These describe the new behaviours. Phubbing is ignoring people and paying attention only to the phone, while smombie means a smart phone zombie. Nomophobia is the discomfort experienced at not being in touch with the virtual world and the fear of being without access to a mobile phone.
This is alarming. We need to understand the children who have become nomophobic – understand what they experience during the school time when they are unable to use the smart phone. Many researches (Vagka, et al. 2023; Molina et al. 2022; Ozdemir et al. 2021) focussing on nomophobia have found that factors like self-esteem, personality, anxiety, stress, mental and physical health issues, academic performance are all getting affected due to nomophobia. Researches have also documented that phone addicts in situations of stress respond by means of dejection, shifting blame onto others, self-pity, feeling hopeless, resigning, or doing substitute gratification (Dziurzyńska et al. 2017).
India’s population is expected to reach 142.86 crore as per UNFPA’s State of World Population Report, 2023 with 25% of India’s population in the age group of 0-14 years, 18% in the 10-19 age group and 26% in the age bracket of 10-24 years. India now stares at a future where it may have the maximum number of mobile connections in the world. Children during corona phase accustomed to learning via gadgets and smart phone in the hand were torn between the enticements offered by the phone versus being attentive in the classroom. This addiction post corona is an issue. Now that smart phones are a part of our lives including school lives, we need to plan for them.
There have not been much documented researches by teachers regarding how nomophobia is affecting their classroom. The paucity of such valuable research insights affects the crucial strategies that education systems need to devise. All the same, in this ‘new normal’ schools need to remodel and redesign themselves to combat nomophobia and other ills brought about by smart phones. They may need to:
• Weave digital wellness into the curriculum.
• Conduct programs on mental health.
• Promote initiatives that warrant more social interactions especially group activities in the non-virtual world.
• Have acceptable systems and guidelines for extent of mobile phone usage.
Education systems already crumbling under the burden of expectations and resource constraints may look upon these actions as an additional burden. However, nomophobia is a serious concern both in terms of prevalence and magnitude and warrants concrete steps. Neither parents nor schools seem to have the option of not responding to this crisis with alacrity.
- Dziurzyńska, E., Pawłowska, B. & Potembska, E. (2017). Coping strategies in individuals at risk and not at risk of mobile phone addiction. Current Problems of Psychiatry, 17(4) 250-260.
- Molina, L. P., Manchego, L. M. S., Molina, J. V. P., & Vargas, I. M. (2022). Anxiety and nomophobia in high school students in the context of virtual education due to covid 19. Journal of Pharmaceutical Negative Results, 13, 82-88.
- Ozdemir, B., Canan, F., & Yildirim, O. (2021). Digital addiction during COVID-19 pandemic: A quality study on university students. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 31(5), 551-562.
- Vagka, E., Gnardellis, C., Lagiou, A., & Notara, V. 2023). Nomophobia and self-esteem: A cross sectional study in greek university students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(4).
The author is an educator and researcher at Somaiya Vidyavihar University, Mumbai, specializing in the field of teacher education. She is passionate about research and ardently pursues it. Her areas of interest are constructivism, dialogic teaching, socio-scientific issues, diversity and inclusion in education and science pedagogy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.