Should We Ban Mobile Phones in Schools?

Education News, Learning Tips

Following the recent mobile phone ban that has been implemented in French schools, Mentor explores this controversial issue, and the pros and cons of digital devices in the classroom.

As of the beginning of September, pupils in French primary and middle schools have been prohibited from utilising their phones on the premises. Students up to the age of 15 will have to either leave phones at home or turn them off when on school grounds – unless it’s an emergency. Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French minister for education, has praised the ban of mobile phones in schools as a ‘law for the 21st century’ that aims to improve discipline, reduce social media use, and reduce cyberbullying and theft.

Presently there is no such law in the UK: instead, the Department for Education, National Association of Head Teachers and National Union of Teachers agree that any restrictions on mobile phone usage should be at the individual school’s discretion.

However, recent surveys indicate that parents would be in favour of a ban: Internet Matters’ ‘Back to School’ poll found that ‘the first year of secondary school has become a pinch-point for online safety’, with an ‘overwhelming majority of Year 7 parents (73%) [saying] they were anxious about their child’s ability to manage online relationships [and] three quarters (74%) [fearing] they would be pressured into taking part in harmful online challenges and crazes’. The same survey found that 59% of parents were in favour of banning mobile phones in schools. Moreover, a recent London School of Economics study concluded that exam scores improved by 6.4% when mobile phones were prohibited during school hours – equivalent to five days of extra study.

It’s clear that parents have concerns about digital devices in the classroom – from fears around cyberbullying to the impact this can have on learning – but do the cons outweigh the pros? Here are a few of the positives and negatives:

Mobile Phones in Schools: Three Pros

  • Security. It’s reassuring for parents, teachers and students alike to know that lines of communication are open – particularly in emergencies. Students know that, should they need to reach their parents, they can (and vice versa). Moreover, many mobile devices now include GPS functionality that means phones can be tracked if necessary.
  • Access to a world of information. Smartphones provide students with a huge bank of ideas and information, thanks to the internet. With the touch of a button it’s possible to learn an instrument, brush up on language skills, or play educational games. This function can be useful for teaching, too; a Shakespeare play becomes much more interesting (and easier to understand) if it’s possible to listen to the text, or watch the actors, after all. Digital devices can turn a lesson into a multisensory experience, which can have huge benefits for cognitive recall and enthusiasm for the subject at hand.
  • Boosting social skills. ‘Mobile phones enhancing social skills – no way!’ We hear you cry. Whilst it’s true that social media can have a negative impact on young people, for shyer students, the ability to message online – sharing ideas, discussing problems, and debating on educational subjects – can be really useful. Quieter, introverted learners may flourish if provided with a focused educational forum that doesn’t require face-to-face discussion.

Mobile Phones in Schools: Three Cons

  • Distraction. One of the biggest concerns around permitting mobile use within schools is the potential for digital devices to distract from lessons. Indeed, the 2018 study ‘A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Off-Task Multitasking with Mobile Phones on Learning’, which was presented in April 2018 by university professor Zheng Yan and doctoral student Quan Chen, found that students who have grown up with mobile devices exist in a state of ‘constant partial attention’ and that mobile phone use in the classroom ‘significantly impaired’ their ability to recall lesson content.
  • Inappropriate materials. Despite the parental controls that may be set up, or the restrictions imposed by the school’s own network, there are fears that students utilising mobile phones in an unsupervised way (secretly during lessons, or at break times), may access inappropriate and even harmful content.
  • Cyberbullying. The Internet Matters survey found that 80% of parents are concerned about cyberbullying. There are real concerns that use of digital devices at school could increase opportunities for online aggression and make students more vulnerable to bullying.

What do you think of mobile phones in schools? Should educational institutions impose strict rules about when and how digital devices are used; should they be banned entirely; or should young people be free to use phones as they see fit? Get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and let us know your views – we’d love to hear from you.

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