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Mobile phones in schools: Is a total ban the way forward?

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The general consensus within the head teacher community is that it does not appreciate the edict from on high how to run a school.

However, last week's statement by Education Secretary Damian Hinds, announcing that the government would not support the total band of all mobile phones in school, may well have been one sure edict that those in the teaching profession would have welcomed.

As a secondary school teacher for almost 20 years, I have seen the impact, both positive and negative, that mobile phones have had in our classroom. Occasionally phones are an amazing resource when utilised to look up or record information, but more often than not they will be used for Snapchatting in class. A cry of 'Miss, my mum's on the phone' in the middle of a lesson is not unusual, and an alarming amount of sexting can go on at break time. Even a gentle vibrate is a distraction, and every secondary school teacher has had to 'deal' with a student and their mobile phone.

Most schools already have policies regarding where and when mobile phones can be used, many allowing break time usage as well as usage in class for 'work purposes'. However, the Michaela Community School, dubbed the strictest school in the UK, is one of a growing number to have adopted a zero-tolerance approach to mobile phones on school premises. Students can expect their phones to be confiscated for several weeks.

Other schools will confiscate a phone if it is becoming a 'nuisance'. The decision is down to individual teachers - but each teacher's idea of a 'nuisance' will differ, which may well create confrontation and confusion. 

So what is the best approach? 

Image Credit: JESHOOTS-com on Pixabay

There is growing evidence that the internet and digital gadgets are making it harder for students to concentrate. The Pew Research Centre conducted a national survey of teachers, with 87% stating that modern technologies were creating an "easily distracted generation with short attention spans." Teens are undoubtedly capable of long periods of concentration, but those who spend a lot of time alone using technology tend to have less in the way of communication skills, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence.

Smart technology is not the problem, the problem is how it is used. The wisdom of "treating people how you would want to be treated" would appear not to translate to the virtual world. Things are said on Whatsapp and Snapchat that would never be said face to face, with perfectly nice children 'wishing each other dead' or suggesting they 'go hang themselves'. Messages are sent with no time for reflection, and problems easily escalate. There is clear evidence of a link between severe depression and anxiety in children and their mobile phone use. And to think all of this is going on in our children's classrooms.

Cyberbullying is not new, and schools have policies to deal with this. This is a problem that can't be ignored, however, another problem that arises is how much of the school day is taken up dealing with incidents caused by mobile phones. The hours are then not spent by teachers and student learning. 

Schools have found that introducing a phone detox policy saw an increase in students joining in extracurricular activities and clubs. Take the phone away and the kids have to talk to each other. Teachers noted they were politer to one another and more interested in what was going on around them.

Anecdotally, it has always been felt that mobile phones in classrooms can support student learning, research, and note-taking. However, research suggests that students are unable to multitask and retain enough information to achieve their potential in tests and exams. 'Miss, can I take a picture of the board' is never going to be as beneficial as actually writing something down and learning it.

However utopian a total ban seems, implementing one would be a challenge. It would be impossible to policy an entire school population to ensure no phones sneaked their way in. Parents like to be able to contact their children on the journey to school and home, and we all know that as soon as anything is banned students will make it a personal challenge subvert the 'rules' - creating more problems.

A very clear off and out-of-sight on school premises rule would seem to be a sensible middle ground.

Schools' jobs are to educate young people - so they are ready to go into the world as responsible adults. It makes no difference to child's well-being if phones are banned during the day, as a BBC poll suggests teens spent an average of three to four hours every night on social networks.

Parents must take responsibility for their own children out of school hours. But for the six and a half hours of a school day being phone-free will allow teenagers to make the best of their time in education and engage fully in the real world, rather than the virtual one.

Lead Image Credit: JESHOOTS-com on Pixabay




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