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Why are we talking about banning phones in schools?

Is the classroom mobile phone ban making a comeback? A quick look at mobile technology trends in secondary education across the country and the world seems to suggest as much.  This year, France has committed to a nation-wide classroom mobile phone ban, and Britain and Ireland are currently debating whether they will take similar measures. It remains to be seen how well it will be taken up and implemented in France, and perhaps most notably whether student welfare, pedagogy and learning outcomes will improve as a result. On a local level, there are certainly questions being raised by both politicians and psychologists in various Australian states regarding the use of mobile phones in the classroom. A large public school in Melbourne is one of an increasing number of Australian schools that are already implementing their own school-wide mobile phone bans. A Catholic high school in Canberra has also taken the step of updating its mobile device policy to effectively ban student mobile phones from the classroom altogether, and there are reports that other schools in the region are looking to follow suit.

So, what has prompted a growing number of schools to take this seemingly radical move?

A few different facts have compelled both primary and secondary schools across the country to question mobile phone use in classrooms.  Firstly, there is the undeniable reality that mobile phone use – and alongside this, social media use – has grown exponentially in prevalence among young people over recent years. Mobile phones are part of modern life, and it looks like they are here to stay. Secondly, as mobile device technology has advanced significantly over recent years, including the potential for increasing student learning opportunities, studies can give us insight into the real verses perceived benefits to student learning. Thirdly, there is a growing body of research that suggests there may be benefits to removing or at least scaling back what has been the subtle but steady shift of phones creeping into the classroom.  This research has caught the attention of educators, politicians and those dealing in areas of student welfare and psychology. What is the place of the phone in the classroom, if at all? Do the stated benefits outweigh the various risks that studies have identified over the years? Do the opinions of teachers differ from that of students or parents on this issue, and which views should take priority? There will always be “experts” on both sides of the equation, each expounding opinion based on various factors, and as with any controversial issue there are undoubtedly pros and cons worth considering for each position. Perimeter Guardian has looked into some of the potential advantages and disadvantages of allowing students access to their mobile phones during class time. We have also canvassed the opinions of some local teachers, parents and students on this far-from-settled topic.

 

Advantages of allowing personal mobile devices in the classroom:

  • Students can be directly and easily contacted by parents or others in the case of an emergency, or if there has been a change to the afterschool arrangements.
  • Students who don’t have access to other learning devices such as a laptop or iPad can use their mobile device in a similar way.
  • Students are growing up in an age of widespread technology, which is prevalent both at home and in the workplace, so there is an argument for allowing them to use it well, and this could potentially be achieved by teachers encouraging and modelling responsible use in the classroom and at school.

Risks of allowing use of personal mobile devices in the classroom:

  • The various sounds of mobile phones can disrupt the teaching or learning occurring in the classroom. Alerts and notifications received can be distracting.
  • Access to a small mobile device in class makes the potential for cheating by students during tests and exams much easier, especially given all smart phones have Internet access.
  • If there is a serious crisis or a largescale emergency, extensive and widespread mobile phone use can clog the system, potentially blocking essential communication such as emergency services.
  • Given bullying can come in the form of aggressive or harassing text messages or other social media communications, a moratorium on mobile phones at least in the classroom can give victims of this type of bullying some reprieve.
  • The full effects of screen overuse on teenagers’ developing eyes is still uncertain, not to mention the potential for screen addiction.
  • It is widely accepted that those of younger generations need better guidance in face to face communication, so eradicating one of the only opportunities for social media-free time for young people could be crucial to this end.

A few parents, students and teachers with direct experience with the issue of mobile phone use at school shared their views with Perimeter Guardian on the issue:

As a high school teacher my experience of students having their phones in the classroom is overwhelmingly negative. The presence of them is hugely distracting and even the most self-disciplined students can find a message notification too tempting to ignore. I believe that phones should not be brought into the classroom and their presence undermines the quality of learning that a student can enter into.

Michelle, Secondary English Teacher

Phones are a huge distraction, so banning them in the classroom is a good move for students who don’t have self-control and can’t moderate their own distractions. In terms of texting, most students can still do that (and do it more easily) on their laptops if they have an Apple or another brand that syncs texting. But for social media, a mobile phone ban helps a lot. I don’t know if I fully agree with a phone ban for senior students (Year 11 and 12), as I think we should take responsibility for our own actions.

Hannah – Year 11 student

I don’t mind a ban on mobile phones, but recently I haven’t been following it because I would just like to listen to music as I work. It should just be a ban for the junior students (Years 7-10)

Charlie – Year 12 student

We are neither here nor there when it comes to our son taking his mobile phone to school with him each day. However, one of the advantages of him having it on him is that we can directly communicate with him if we need to. Sometimes the school is difficult to contact or messages about a change of plans for after school don’t get through to him on time, so we have found the phone to be beneficial in that way. We don’t think he really needs it in class, but he has always been a pretty good student, so we trust that he can have the mobile phone on him and it won’t really be a problem or interrupt his schoolwork.

Tony and Elissa – Parents of two teenage boys

When it comes to mobile phone use in schools, we have recently changed our school’s policy to reflect that of the trend throughout other parts of Australia. We have adopted a no-tolerance policy for phones in class as the research is in and it’s fairly clear: While there are a few benefits to using mobile devices in class, the unlimited use of mobile phones only makes the classroom environment more distracting, disrupts student learning and makes the teacher’s job more difficult. We are satisfied that the laptop device each student is required to have as part of their school equipment is sufficient and allows them access to essential and appropriate learning technologies.

Luke – Secondary Assistant Principal

What are your thoughts? Are you a parent, teacher or student? Leave your comments on our Facebook page, we would love to hear from you!

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