Photo/IllutrationStudents at a junior high school in Soja, Okayama Prefecture, trace evacuation routes on a map based on information they obtained from smartphones. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Although many children own smartphones, it is not necessarily solely up to teachers and parents to think about how they should get along without the devices.

Children should also have a say in the discussions.

Osaka prefectural officials have decided to allow students of public elementary and junior high schools, starting next spring, to bring their smartphones and cellphones with them to school.

A 2009 education ministry notice says elementary and junior high school students should, in principle, not be allowed to bring cellphones to school because the devices are not directly essential for education activities. Osaka Prefecture’s move will amount to “lifting” that ban independently.

A strong earthquake struck northern Osaka Prefecture in June at a time of the day when children were on their way to school. Concerns were raised by parents and guardians who could not quickly determine if their children were safe.

In response to that development came the latest measure. The use of smartphones at school, however, will remain forbidden.

There are no plans for allowing school officials to contact students via smartphones. And it will be left to the discretion of municipal education boards and individual schools to decide whether the ban will actually be lifted and to set specific rules in the event of its lifting.

A fiscal 2017 survey by the Cabinet Office showed that 55 percent of elementary school pupils and 66 percent of junior high school students were using smartphones or cellphones. And for many children, school hours are not the only time of the day to be away from their parents and guardians as they attend cram schools, go to take lessons, spend time at child-care centers or elsewhere after school.

It could be said that Osaka Prefecture took that existing state of things into account in making the latest decision.

Concerns and problems, however, abound.

For starters, how can it be ensured that students do not use smartphones at school?

Teachers could keep smartphones from their students. That option, however, is riddled with conundrums, including increased burdens on teachers and the question of who would take responsibility if a smartphone is lost, stolen or broken.

In response to the prefectural government plan, officials have already been approached by parents of children without smartphones, who have asked for advice on whether they should give ones to their children, sources said.

Care should be taken to ensure that the new measure will not end up forcing smartphone ownership on children.

Most importantly, we should draw on this occasion to turn children’s eyes to negative aspects of smartphones, such as the danger of using a smartphone while walking, smartphone addiction, cyberbullying and other online trouble. We must ensure that every student learns to use a smartphone wisely.

The prefectural government plans to work out a set of guidelines in February, which will include, among other things, recommendations on the approach to social media and the amount of time to be spent on a smartphone, officials said.

The situation, however, may differ from school to school and from community to community. Discussions should be built from the bottom up, from a school class to a grade and on to an entire school, with the guidelines to be used as a reference.

One idea would be to have students in senior grades discuss the matter among themselves.

At Chofu municipal No. 4 junior high school in western Tokyo, where students are not allowed to bring smartphones to school, the student council played a central role in working out rules on the use of social media. The school’s eight-point agreement says, among other things, that time should be set aside for talking face to face with friends and family members and for forgoing smartphone use.

The issue of smartphone use should provide an opportunity for developing awareness and an attitude in children for drawing on the merits of a successive array of newly available goods and services, while holding down their negatives.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 9