Posted on September 24, 2008

Cellphone Crackdown at Oprah’s Girls School

Kashiefa Ajam, Cape Argus (Cape Town), September 20, 2008

Oprah Winfrey has confiscated the expensive cellphones she gave her South African private school pupils as gifts after she learnt that only half of them had passed their June exams.

America’s Queen of Talk discovered that the girls at her exclusive academy at Henley-on-Klip south of Joburg did poorly in their June exams because they were spending too much time on the cellphone chat service, MXit.

In confirming this, one of the parents said: “They were all handpicked by Oprah Winfrey to attend her great school. It must have been so disappointing for her to see that only half of the girls passed the last quarter—all because they are spending so much time on that dreadful MXit.”

Neither the school nor Winfrey would comment on the matter this week but Rapport newspaper spoke to two parents—from Soweto and Mitchell’s Plain—who confirmed that they had received circulars informing them of the poor results and that the cellphones had been taken away.

They said the girls’ Samsung E250 cellphones have now been replaced by the more modest Nokia 1200, which doesn’t allow access to MXit.

Since the school’s grand opening in December 2006 the girls have been allowed to freely communicate with their families and friends via MXit on Friday and Sunday evenings.

Now their cellphones are given to them only on Saturday afternoons, and they are limited to making calls and sending SMSes. Their study times have also been extended.

While the girls previously studied from 6.30-8.30pm, they now also have to study at weekends, the newspaper reported.

Another parent contacted by the Weekend Argus, whose daughter actually passed her exams, said the “fancy Samsung” was completely unnecessary.

“It’s great of (Oprah) to have given our children these expensive phones, but they don’t need all those functions and features. I for one am very happy with the more modest one.”

The parent added that he was happy that the study times had been extended, “because the girls need to be reminded why they are there”.

“It is up to us as parents to talk to our children and teach them discipline. We can’t leave everything on Oprah’s shoulders. This is a wonderful opportunity for all of them and we have to assist the school,” the parent said.