Banning phones at school, is it really a solution?

By Sarah ROSE, Lecturer in Psychology and Child Development, and Jennifer TAYLOR Lecturer in Qualitative Psychological Research Methods, Staffordshire University (UK)

Completely banning cell phones in schools is not necessarily a good idea. Taking into account the age, motivation and maturity of the students, it is undoubtedly preferable to train the new generations in responsible use of smartphones.

In the UK, by the age of 11 most children own a telephone. In China, they get one at an even earlier age, as 88% of students in grades 1 to 3 (i.e. ages 6 to 8) reportedly have their own laptop. . These phones, they are therefore likely to take with them to school – encouraged in this direction by their parents, who see an interest in it for their safety. However, schools may consider them distracting. In France, their use is prohibited during school hours. That said, such a measure is difficult to enforce, as research with Chinese teachers has shown.

The alternative would be to take note in school regulations of the now unavoidable presence of smartphones in our daily lives. Our work suggest that students, even in primary school, have the necessary maturity to contribute to the implementation of such policies.

Regulate uses

Although some research has shown that banning mobile phones could improve the academic results of pupils, in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds, this observation is not found systematically in other studies.

These inconsistencies from one study to another can be explained by the fact that they focused on different age groups, without taking much account of the maturity of the children and their academic motivation. This is not insignificant insofar as, with age, children can use their laptop more appropriately.

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

Video above: report in a college in 2018 (France 3 Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur).

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 like “Bring your own device”tested in secondary schools in New Zealand, found that students’ digital skills improved when they were encouraged to bring their own smartphones and tablets to class, and in this context, we also see an increase in exchanges within the class, as well as between students and their teachers.

Instead of outright banning phones, schools could consider policies integrating a number of digital skills and making young people aware of the risks of screens and networks. In addition to reducing possible distractions in learning activities, this would promote better daily use of smartphones, which would be particularly valuable for children who, by definition, have more difficulty regulating their use of digital technology.

Chat with families

It is important to take into consideration the points of view of all the people involved in the subject: the teachers, responsible for implementing the school policy, the pupils, to whom they are addressed, and the parents, likely to influence their children’s compliance with the rules.

In our research, 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 telephones at school. Then, we presented them with a panel of school regulations so that they could tell us what they think of them.

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

The children took part in the discussions with great maturity, sometimes surprising their parents with their consideration of the risks. They know how to distinguish between what is appropriate use and what is not. In addition, in collaboration with their parents, they were able to come up with ideas for house rules and solutions for enforcing them. A parent/child duo suggested a ‘telephone prefect’ role that would have a classroom mobile phone 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 reduce, more generally, the uses that pose problems. Consultation of families is for example already recommended in Ireland with regard to mobile phone regulations.

Totally banning phones in schools could therefore amount to missing an opportunity to engage and train new generations in responsible use of mobiles.

The original version of this article was published in The Conversation.

Banning phones at school, is it really a solution? – Ouest-France evening edition – 09/12/2022