Some 90 percent of Australian students admit to using devices in class, and research shows kids get better marks in personal-tech-free zones. So should schools ban phones outright?
The French government says yes. It’s prohibited all students under 15 from using smartphones during school hours. Australia may be poised to follow suit.
A British study has shown smartphone bans improve student performance by an average of more than six percent - with the effect disproportionately strong among low-achieving students. High achievers appeared to do fine with phones or without.
Closer to home, the New South Wales state government has recently launched its own study, under the leadership of acclaimed psychologist Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg.
Dr. Carr-Gregg, a Family Zone cyber expert, will review phone bans in France and Albania and release Australian recommendations by the end of 2018.
Do schools have a “Digital Duty of Care”?
Most commentators agree that, for primary-aged children, devices are distracting and, worse, may promote anti-social behaviour.
“That borders on issues around duty of care for young people,” notes Darren Stevenson, educator and chief executive of after-school provider Extend.
Leading digital safety educator Susan (“The Cyber Cop”) McLean, an adviser to the federal government’s Cyber Safety Working Group, agrees. A Family Zone cyber expert, McLean warns further that schools who do nothing risk being sued for failure to provide duty of care.
Citing the tragic suicide of 14-year-old cyberbullying victim Amy “Dolly” Everett earlier this year, McLean adds that schools that interpret their duty of care as an “offline” responsibility need a digital wake-up call.
Dolly's suicide: Unspeakable tragedy - and a wake-up call for schools
McLean supports a ban on phones for primary schools - as do many other experts, including University of NSW education professor Dr. Pasi Sahlberg. A “clear ban would be easiest for everyone,” he points out. But educating students about digital balance and wellbeing is essential too.
How would it work for teens?
For older students, an outright ban could backfire, observes Dr. Joanne Orlando, a technology and learning researcher at Western Sydney University.
“When I talk to teenagers about these sort of bans, they normally saying something like ‘well, that just means I have to use my phone in a less obvious way’,” she said.
“It can lead to children being more secretive in their phone use and that means adults and teachers might not be made aware when things go wrong.”
Students need to be taught about safe and balanced technology use, Dr. Orlando insists - not forbidden to use their phones.
Balance starts with limits
But all experts agree that balance requires limits. “Schools need to ask themselves, what are the educational risks and the educational benefits to allowing kids unrestricted access to personal phones?
"The truth is, in most cases, there are no educational benefits. It’s all risks,” says Family Zone cyber expert and former undercover internet detective Brett Lee.
Both McLean and Lee cite schools that have successfully implemented no-phone policies - that require students to hand in phones at the start of the school day, and retrieve them at the final bell. But Lee admits that the practice could present logistical and resource challenges for many schools.
Ban - or manage?
“Plus, when we use the word ‘ban’ - it’s too black and white. In an ideal world, school communities would be better off if no child had access to a personal mobile device during the school day.”
In the real world, where many parents (and virtually all students) would object to an outright ban, Lee is a strong advocate for digital management software like Family Zone. “Family Zone is the perfect solution for managing kids’ personal devices at school - because it puts the parent in the driver’s seat, no matter where the child happens to be.”
Family Zone is the internet management provider of choice for more than 600 premier schools in Australia and beyond. Like to learn more ? Or interested in a demo? Click here