In view of the recent decision of school (http://tvnz.co.nz/technology-news/fathers-win-school-wi-fi-battle-5787916) in New Zealand to remove a wireless system, it seems a timely moment to review the evidence for health risks associated with Wi-Fi and touch on the educational benefits that accrue from its use.
In a related story a spokesperson for Safe Wireless Technology New Zealand is reported as quoting from several studies showing that a clear risk has been identified. http://tvnz.co.nz/technology-news/wifi-detrimental-health-study-suggests-5742297. In fact according to this report:
Overseas research has shown that a person who uses a mobile phone for a year increases their chances of getting brain cancer by 70%, according to the SWTNZ.
Unfortunately, it appears that SWTNZ don’t have any kind of web presence and the study quoted cannot be found.
There are now a large number of studies of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation and these have been recently summarized by the Health Protection Agency (UK) as
In summary, although a substantial amount of research has been conducted in this area, there is no convincing evidence that RF exposure below guideline levels causes health effects in adults or children.
In regard to mobile phone use they also state:
Although some positive findings have been reported in a few studies, overall the evidence does not suggest that the use of mobile phones causes brain tumours or any other type of cancer.
The anti-Wi-Fi lobby groups also make much of the fact that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields have been labelled as a Group 2b possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization – http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/index.php.
In fact, this classification is entirely based on studies of mobile phone use and not at all on the use of wireless networks in homes, schools or other places. It is worth noting that the energy levels of wireless as compared to cell phones are much lower and that the devices are not typically held close the brain for extended periods – as mobile phones may be. This is significant because Wi-Fi signals attenuate (weaken) very quickly as they move away from the source.
This debate has already played out in Canada where the Victoria school board, after three-years, lifted its moratorium on Wi-Fi in primary schools based on the scientific opinion of Health Canada.
It is important that decisions about Wi-Fi in schools are made on health grounds and the New Zealand Ministry of Health has written that in its view:
“exposures to radiofrequency fields from WiFi equipment in schools does not pose a health risk to staff or students in the areas where it is used.”
It’s not the primary purpose of this piece to develop further the arguments in favour of mobile computing in schools simply to cover the health issues raised by the original story, however, something may be said.
The potential of wireless mobile devices to improve children’s learning should be recognised. The claim that fixed internet (cabled) devices are equivalent is simply not true. It is the un-tethering of internet connected devices, capable of being used as textbooks, video players, video and audio recorders, still cameras and devices for the creation of multimedia resources by learners that has significantly changed the pedagogy of many classrooms for the better.
Use of these devices at school, on the move and at home is also often supported by the use of a learning management system where teachers may, if they choose, provide resources at the individual level or particularly suited to a student’s learning style.
Many of these classrooms have become learner-centred rather than teacher-led and thus support the extremely important notion of student autonomy – own the technology and own the learning.
Reading some of the other blog posts here will demonstrate how students improve their learning using mobile connected devices.