Rory Cellan-Jones

The mobile internet kids

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 6 Mar 08, 11:20 GMT

I spent a day this week at a school in Tynemouth, on the coast outside Newcastle, helping pupils at Marden High School make a film about mobile phones for the BBC's School Report project. There’ll be more about this on the website on School Report day on March 13th, but one thing struck me immediately. Children are at the cutting edge of the mobile internet revolution and both teachers and the phone industry can learn from them.

We were using a group of 12 and 13 year olds to investigate how children used – and abused - mobile phones and they were knowledgeable, articulate and very demanding of the technology. They had conducted their own poll of the school’s students – more than half of the 920 11-16 year olds had responded and only 3 did not have their own mobile phones.

Their survey also asked whether the students had video, music or photos on their phones, and four out of five said they had all three. When I asked a group of them what they wanted from a phone they had plenty of demands: “Multimedia, the internet, Bluetooth, MP3s.” What about simple phone calls? “Boring!!” they chorused.

Many showed me pretty advanced handsets. So they are carrying with them sophisticated mini-computers and their usual route to the internet could soon be via their phones rather than their PCs. While adults are dipping their toes into the mobile internet rather gingerly, children are taking the plunge. Bearing in mind that texting took off when it was discovered by young phone users, the mobile firms would do well to examine carefully which web apps are proving popular with teenagers.

There are implications too for teachers. Marden High School – like many – has a policy which effectively bans mobile phones, although the Head Teacher admitted to me that it was not strictly enforced. “If we searched the 920 students,” he told me with a smile, ”we would probably find more than a thousand phones.”

While the teachers here are worried about aspects of mobile phone use such as bullying texts and explicit videos, they are aware that a ban is becoming untenable. And they are even beginning to explore how mobile phones could be used in lessons – one class was using phones to film simple animations.

The children of the mobile internet generation are getting used to being connected – to their music, their videos, their social networking sites – wherever they go. And that means we are all going to have to think hard about how we rewrite the rules.


Recently carried out a survey at the college where I work to find out how academic staff and students are using ICT in teaching and learning. Part of the information sought included they types of technology and the students were way ahead of the staff. The key way in which we will move technology in education forward is by learning from the students and that isn't an easy mental leap for a lot of teachers.

  • 2.
  • At 12:46 PM on 06 Mar 2008,
  • Paul J wrote:

I find this very interesting, but what about the current drive for smaller, more portable & cheaper laptops..?

The main barriers to using the internet on the phone are cost & usage. With cheaper laptops, providing better functionality could this be the way of the future..?

Rory, did you already check a kid-friendly search engine Quintura for Kids on

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