Secondary School Students’ Use of Smartphones: what can we learn about Learners’ Devices to Improve Learning?

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Education (MEd)

First Supervisor/Advisor

Dr. Anil Khamis

Second Supervisor/Advisor

Dr. Tage Bwisalo


Institute for Educational Development, East Africa


The development of technology in the last two decades has drastically changed people’s lives across the world, particularly in the communication domain. Smart phones that support access to the internet have become popular accounting for 60% of internet connections across the globe (Ng et al, 2017). Smart phones are portable, accessible, relatively cheap, and are easy to repair, and do not require sophisticated skills to operate (Chambo, et al, 2013; Kihwele & Bali 2013). In the education sector, generally, smartphones are used by students to search learning materials through the internet using various applications and sources (Buchanan, 2011; Twum, 2017; Valk, et al.2010) and some argue that smartphones facilitate the development of critical thinking, self-directed learning, and collaboration amongst learners (Mureithi, 2019; Holz, et al. 2011). Further, such phones enable people in schools to download information including learning and teaching materials, record audio such as sessions that can be reviewed later, and are source of illumination that allow learning to continue for some children at night especially in the rural areas where electricity is not available or irregularly accessible. Whilst, many laud the potential use of smartphones to support learning in schools, Moshi et al, (2018); Schneider et al, (2012); Kibona and Mgaya (2015) report that smartphones have a negative relationship to academic performance. Students spend more time surfing or viewing non-academic material and use the devices for social media purposes such as keeping up with friends on WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook. Ng, et al. (2017) found that students’ use of smartphones lowered academic performance in Malaysia. Mgaya and Kibona (2015) in their study found that smartphones were utilized by students to build love affair messages and students used five to seven hours on social media doing non-academic matters. In the contexts of Tanzania, despite the use, adoption and potential benefits of ICT integration in education are dependent on current policies which are: The first National ICT Policy 2003 and The 2007 ICT Policy for Basic Education that encourage the use of ICT in all levels of education in Tanzania and secondary schools level included as noted by Kafyulilo et al,(2015) yet , there are political declarations and complete ban of secondary school students’ use of smart phones in those schools which are due to lack of empirical data on whether smart phones support or harm students’ learning(Joyce-Gibbons et al, 2017; Chambo, et al., 2013). It is in this context that this study is situated to consider empirically how learning can be improved with the use of smartphones. This qualitative research study adopted a case study research design with a total of 10 research sample of participants. A purposive sampling procedure was used to obtain the sample size from a total of 45 Form three students in one classroom in a school setting. The significance of selecting this number of respondents was to obtain a few representatives who could provide sufficient and correct information needed by the researcher. The research study further, employed interviews, Focus Group Discussion, and Participant observation methods to collect data. During the analysis of data, the data collected were transcribed (audio/visual data), coded, and categorized that led to the identification of themes. The study findings revealed that the acceptance of smartphones’ use policy was significant for students’ learning. The policy would be accompanied by the initiation of education programs, rules, and punishments to those who would fail to comply with the rules. Moreover, it was found that modification of the school curriculum to align with the use of technology; special applications for learning, conducive learning infrastructure, presence of IT experts were reported in the study. Likewise, the study found that form three students were using smart phones for both learning purposes and challenges to learning purposes. The learning purposes found were such as downloading learning materials, learning science practical lessons, posting and sharing questions and their solutions, recording sessions for future reviewing, and watching news. The learning challenges were such as classroom distraction, watching pornographic movies, and wastage of time for non-learning matters. The study further, found that secondary school students’ use of smartphones increased vocabulary learning, and collaboration among the learners. The research study recommended that the governments and other education stakeholders have to create conducive ICT infrastructures to enable learners to learn in friendly ICT environments. Again, there is a need for the students to be educated on the appropriate use of smart phones to improve their learning

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