In any school in Bhutan, a student caught with a mobile gadget faces serious consequences, including the following. The gadget is seized for the entire academic year, parents are summoned and admonished, or a monetary fine is imposed. The school authorities treat the student as if he or she has committed a crime. This is generally considered normal and acceptable.

But it is not. It is at odds with our grand vision of an ICT-enabled knowledge society. In an age when the world is accessible at our fingertips and infinite knowledge is a click away, imposing a blanket ban on mobile gadgets in schools is unfair and unjustifiable.

Imagine thousands of boarding students across the country cut off from the world for ten months in a year, year after year, until their youthful curiosity to learn and explore on the internet fades. When they eventually enter a workforce intricately connected to gadgets, the opportunity we denied them becomes apparent—harshly and unfairly.

Yes, concerns about misuse, excessive use, distractions, and a host of other issues related to the irresponsible use of mobile gadgets are valid. However, no level of concern from teachers, parents, or the government justifies a complete blockade of access to unlimited information, knowledge, and exploration. It is time we looked beyond our fear of misuse, which, for lack of data, is only speculative.

The education ministry should relax the current restrictions. Schools can then develop their own policies for mobile device use, outlining terms and conditions. Stepping up digital literacy will alleviate many of our concerns over misuse and excessive use. Affordability is altogether another issue.

Allowing access to mobile gadgets will open up a world of learning materials and platforms, far more exciting, interactive, and up-to-date than traditional textbooks. Numerous free interactive learning platforms are available for teachers to use if their students are permitted to use mobile devices.

The education ministry has initiated curriculum thinning and textbook-less teaching-learning. Such initiatives require better access to mobile devices and the internet. The government’s policies and initiatives are geared towards digitalisation, but some of our practices remain stubbornly outdated.

Moreover, digital literacy is considered critical in any field of work. It involves skills to navigate the digital world safely, securely, and responsibly. These skills can only be learnt through the use of digital devices, which presents practical opportunities and challenges for learning.

To enable the Bhutanese citizens to take advantage of technological advancements, we need to start equipping our children with digital skills for global citizenship. Let their horizons of learning expand. Otherwise, we risk being left behind as a nation.

The premise of banning mobile gadgets in schools is that they are more harmful than helpful. The reality is that they are more helpful than harmful.