June 15, 2005

TECHNOLOGY: Mobile phones ring silent but true in Thai school for the deaf (THAILAND)

Mobile phones ring silent but true in Thai school for the deaf

Sun Jun 5,10:40 PM ET

Most Bangkok schools have banned cell phones in the classroom, after students were caught using text messages to cheat on tests.

But at the city's first school for the deaf, students are encouraged to bring their phones to classes where SMS text messages have become a valuable teaching tool.

In this strikingly silent school, where bells don't ring and students chat with their hands in the hallways, students are to be seen busily using their thumbs to speak to friends, teachers and their families.

Teachers at Sethsathien School, which opened in 1953, have steadily incorporated the phones to help children's education and their efforts to communicate better with the outside world -- and each other.

Rungravee Ditchareon, an art teacher for four years at the school, says students are allowed to bring their mobile phones because the technology can have an important effect on their lives.

About 80 percent of the high school students, aged 15 to 18, bring their phones to school, she says.

"Without mobile phones, we could not communicate unless we were standing right in front of each other," she says.

"In the classroom, the mobile phones are less important, because we're standing face to face, and we can communicate in sign language," she tells AFP.

"But outside the classroom, the phones facilitate other communication between teachers and students," Rungravee said.

Students send text messages to teachers to discuss their homework, or to ask what should they bring for school activities, she says.

Text messaging has also proved an effective substitute for calling out someone's name.

"In the past, if I wanted to contact a student I would have to walk through the entire school to find him, but now i can just send an SMS," Rungravee says.

Sixteen-year-old student Sasiporn Wongsathorn has used her mobile phone for more than one year. She says the technology has helped her communicate with her family and friends from other schools.

"I made new friends during academic camp, friends who aren't deaf, and this lets me talks with them," she says through a sign language interpreter.

Before cell phones, deaf students at the camp had to write on paper what they wanted to say to people who couldn't use sign language, she says.

Student Onyupha Tipayanond says she started using her mobile phone one month ago, because she had been having so much trouble contacting her family, who live in another province.

"The only way to contact my father was to write a letter, which sometimes took too long," she says.

The school had tried using pagers to communicate among teachers and students, but that call-back system proved unhelpful.

In other Thai schools students are discouraged or barred from bringing mobile phones, because teachers believe they are a distraction in class -- though many students sneak them in.

Many schools banned cell phones after highly publicized cases of students using them to cheat on tests.

The school for the deaf, which includes both elementary and high school, does prohibit younger students from bringing phones, out of concern they are too immature to care for them, Rungravee said.

And the older students have to obey rules about phone use.

"We have a few rules. The must keep the phones on mute, and they cannot text during class," she said.

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