Phone bans at school simply don’t work, many educators argue. And isn’t the whole idea counterproductive in today’s digital age?
Banning student smartphones outright sounds simple. But as many schools have learned, bans are cumbersome and difficult to police. They lumber school staff with heavy administrative burdens that may defeat the purpose of eliminating phones in the first place: to ensure energy and resources are directed toward teaching and learning, not distraction and disruption.
But practicalities aside, are phone bans even educationally sound? A growing number of observers argue that withholding phones may in fact have a disabling impact on young people’s growth and development, compromising their future prospects.
Preparing the rising generation to take its place as leaders in the digital age, some experts argue, demands an inclusive approach to technology in the classroom - and that includes the ubiquitous smartphone.
Risks, but also benefits
Allowing phones in the classroom may mean risking distraction and online harm - as with any other connected device. But the potential upsides for learning - collaboration, global networking, independent inquiry, self-paced instruction - may be even more powerful.
And then there’s the school’s challenge - indeed, say some, the school’s responsibility - to teach students how to manage technology appropriately, and to navigate the online world using the same set of values we teach them to apply in the offline world.
Values: Online and offline
Students learn from a young age not to chat with neighbours during a lesson. Not to scribble on their textbooks. Not to sneak out of the classroom. Not to copy other students’ work. Not to pass notes or hide manga in their notebooks. They learn how to treat their peers with respect in the real world, as well as how to respect the authority of their teacher and other adults.
Learning to stay focused, to delay gratification, to be honest, to respect authority and to behave in socially appropriate ways are values that need to be applied to students’ online lives as well.
Banning technology will not teach them how to do this. On the contrary, it may even suggest that online behaviour need not be subject to the same standards or the same rigour.
And given that they are growing up into a world where technology will be the norm rather than the exception - that it will be embedded into everyday life in all its aspects - that could be a very dangerous message indeed.
Open discourse - clear parameters
“An enriched life in the 21st century requires a balance of technological engagement and real-world relationships and experiences,” notes prominent Scottish education specialist Pamela Boa. “It is incumbent on us to ensure that our young people leave school with the skills to manage a digital lifestyle and succeed in an increasingly connected workplace. This can only come with open discourse and clear parameters at home and at school.”
She adds, “Take away their tech and you take away their ability to succeed.”