Should phones be banned in classrooms?

phone ban careers with stem
Smartphones will be banned from all Victorian classrooms from 2020.

Starting from the first term of 2020, smartphones will be banned from all classrooms in primary schools and high schools across Victoria. Students will have to leave their phones in their lockers from the first bell until the last, unless they need it for medical reasons (and no, Snapchat streaks don’t count). Phones will also be allowed if the teacher has specifically said students will need them as part of the day’s lesson.

“Teachers are constantly asking kids to put their phones away. This is common sense,” said Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, who announced the ban, saying that cyber bullying was one of the main reasons behind the decision.

“We cannot stamp [cyber byllying] out. It is going to occur. But we can take some real steps to reduce the level of bullying,” he said.

RELATED: Technology and learning in the classroom: 6 tips to get the balance right

Will the ban stop bullying?

According to Australian government statistics, about one in four Year 4 to Year 9 students (27%) reported being bullied at least every few weeks – and that was from a 2009 study, when Facebook was relatively new, and neither Instagram nor Snapchat even existed yet.

But is a phone ban the solution to these worrying numbers? Karyn Healy, a family psychology expert at the University of Queensland doesn’t think so.

“Contrary to public perception, bullying via social media is not as common as traditional forms of face-to-face bullying,” she said. “It’s natural for parents to want to protect their children and teens from bullying on social media, but simply taking their devices away is not the solution.”

More trouble than it’s worth?

An education expert at Melbourne’s Monash University, Professor Neil Selwyn, also said the ban could have unintended negative side effects.

“We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he said. “I think an overall ban is a shame – there are many instances where having smartphones in class can be educationally beneficial.”

Neil also argued that the ban could be difficult to police and enforce. “If nothing else, on a practical note, we can expect students to be bringing their mobiles into class regardless of any ban. The realities of policing this ban at the beginning of each lesson could be more trouble than it is worth.”

Plus side – more face time, better marks?

In 2015, the London School of Economics published a study comparing a selection of English schools and their mobile phone-use policies. They found that results in important exams improved significantly after mobile phone bans were enforced, with the main improvements driven by lower-achieving students, but with little impact on higher-achieving students.

“The results suggest that low-achieving students are more likely to be distracted by the presence of mobile phones,” the researchers concluded.

However, even the economists didn’t necessarily suggest a ban would be the answer. “These findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured,” they said.

One Victorian school that already implemented the ban early last year also found that students were less distracted and the schoolyard was much louder during recess and lunch as students interacted more.

Here are some of the reactions to the ban online:

What do you think? Should schools ban mobile phones? Add your comment below.

Gemma Chilton

Author: Gemma Chilton

Gemma has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney and spent a semester studying environmental journalism in Denmark. She has been writing about science and engineering for over a decade.


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