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This week, we are taking a deep dive into the pros and cons of banning phones in schools. With the Victorian Government’s announcement that phones would be banned in all schools from 2020, the issue is back in the media in a big way. In case you missed it, here is all the latest thinking from around the web.

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Victoria has banned mobile phones in state schools from 2020

In late June, Victoria followed France in announcing a ban on mobile phones in both primary and secondary state schools from 2020, and there is pressure for the rest of the states and territories to follow. Debates about the best way to manage mobile phones at school in a digital age are also underway in Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In a recently conducted survey of more than 2000 adults, nearly 80% supported the ban, despite most feeling positively towards the use of digital technology in schools generally. And yet, education experts remain divided. Let’s explore the key issues in this hotly contested topic.

Banning phones to improve learning outcomes

The rationale for banning phones in Victorian schools is that it will help reduce distraction, tackle cyberbullying and improve learning outcomes for students. These are all issues the community wants tackled, and rightly so. 

‘Teachers and parents also frequently raise concerns about the use of mobile phones during school hours as a cause of constant distraction in classrooms. Rolling out a state-wide policy will provide consistency and certainty for parents, students and school communities.’  Victorian Government website

Half of Australian kids have been cyberbullied

Cyberbullying is another real issue that both schools and the community are demanding action on. The problem seems overwhelming in scale.  In fact, results of a study from mental health non-profit organisation Headspace found this week that 53% of teenagers had experienced some form of cyberbullying, and research shows that victims of cyberbullying have worse outcomes than those who have experienced traditional bullying. In this context, it comes as no surprise that the call for mobile phone ban is so well supported.

A success story 

McKinnon Secondary School is a high-performing public school in Melbourne who has had a mobile phone ban in place since 2018 in response to increasing distraction in the classroom. Principal Pitsa Binnion commented:

“It’s been fantastic, and I have to say it’s relieved a lot of teachers… It’s just changed the way kids have behaved, especially during recess and lunch, but we found also they were less distracted in class.” Transcript of interview with 3AW

‘Complex and messy’

Neil Selwyn of Monash University says an analysis of the evidence shows the realities of smartphone use in the classroom to be ‘complex and decidedly messy’. He argues that while the ban might seem like a sensible approach to the above issues, there is more to think about. Among the problems with instituting a blanket ban, most often cited are the difficulties teachers would face in policing such a rule, the benefits of embracing m-Learning, and that banning phones would be ineffectual in combating cyberbullying, given it predominantly occurs outside of school hours.

It’s not all bad – embracing mobile learning

“Good Reception – Teens, Teachers, and Mobile Media in a Los Angeles High School” by Antero Garcia describes what happens when educators build on the way students already use technology outside of the classroom to help them learn in the classroom. His year spent creating a “wireless critical pedagogy” combined with a culture of participation show there is potential for mobile phones to be an asset. Some educators say that embracing m-Learning is a way to bridge the gap between more traditional education and the way teens are interacting with the world around them. Other positive, anecdotal reports tell of students using their phones to Live Stream classes for sick classmates. 

Calls for more education around mobile use and cyberbullying

As you can imagine, Twitter was ablaze with indignation over the announcement of the ban, with many joining education researchers in calling for better education around the use of technology and other strategies to combat cyberbullying. Although, this is something most schools are already addressing.

Where to from here?

We all want the best for our schools, for our kids, and our community. Balancing the pressures of today’s digital environment with the academic and wellbeing of students is a challenge we will have to tackle together.