Banning phones in school, is it really a good idea?

In the UK, most children own a phone by the age of 11. In China, they get one at an even earlier age: 88% of students aged 6 to 8 have their own laptop.

These phones, they are therefore likely to take them to school – encouraged in this direction by their parents who see an interest in it for their safety. But schools may consider them distracting. In France, their use is prohibited during school hours and recess, at least until high school. That said, such a measure is difficult to enforce, as research conducted with Chinese teachers has shown.

The alternative would be to note, in school regulations, the now inevitable presence of smartphones in our daily lives. Thus, our work suggests that students, even in elementary school, have the necessary maturity to contribute to the implementation of such policies.

Age, an important factor

While some studies (including one conducted in Spain) have highlighted the fact that banning mobile phones can improve the academic performance of students, especially when they come from disadvantaged backgrounds, this observation is by no means consistently found in other studies.

These discrepancies can be explained by the fact that this research has focused on different age groups, without taking particular account of the children’s maturity and their motivation in school. This is not unimportant, as children can learn to use their mobile more appropriately with age.

For example, it has been observed that 18-year-old students only use their phones during recess, before the start or at the end of a lesson while waiting for a teacher to arrive. Furthermore, it was often an individual activity that did not interfere with learning. But it seems unlikely that younger teenagers or children will behave in the same way.

Educational tools

On the other hand, rather than considering mobile phones as sources of distraction, they could be used to encourage students to engage in their learning.

An initiative such as ‘Bring your own device’, tested in high schools in New Zealand, showed that students’ digital skills improved when they were encouraged to bring their own smartphones and tablets to class. We also notice in this context that there are more exchanges in the class, but also between the students and their teachers.

Instead of outright banning phones, schools could consider policies that integrate a range of digital skills and make young people aware of the risks of screens and social media.

In addition to reducing possible distractions in learning activities, this would promote better daily use of smartphones, which will be particularly valuable for children who, by definition, have more difficulty regulating their use of digital technology.

It is neither parents nor children
for the total ban

It is important to take into account the views of all involved: teachers who are responsible for implementing school policy, the students they address, and parents who can influence their children’s compliance with the rules.

For our study, we conducted interviews in pairs with parents and their 10- or 11-year-old children. First, we asked them a few questions about how they understand the benefits and risks of phones in school. We then presented them with a panel of school regulations so they could tell us what they thought of them.

According to the findings, parents and children believe that phones are important for staying in touch, while being aware of their risks in the school environment, from bullying to internet access. Neither side supports a policy of total cell phone bans.

“The Telephone Prefect”

The children participated in the discussions with great maturity and sometimes surprised their parents with their considerations about risks. They know how to distinguish between what is and is not appropriate use of the phone.

In addition, in collaboration with their parents, they could come up with ideas for house rules and solutions to enforce them. One parent/child duo suggested the presence of a “phone prefect” who would have a cell phone for the class that children and parents could use to contact each other during the day if needed.

The involvement of young people and their parents in the development of establishment policies makes it possible to increase their effectiveness and even more generally to reduce the uses that cause problems. Consultation of families is recommended, e.g. already in Ireland regarding mobile phone regulations.

A total ban on phones in schools may, in short, amount to missing an opportunity to engage and train new generations in the responsible use of smartphones.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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