Smartphone at school, yes or no? Why it is important to promote an alliance between school and families -.
Smartphone at school, yes or no? The decision of the rector of the Malpighi High School in Bologna, Elena Ugolini, to requisition cell phones from students and teachers during the morning at school is arousing heated debate in recent weeks. A drastic choice that, as Ugolini herself explained, has become obligatory given the growing dependence on devices found in children, less and less ‘present’ both during class hours and during breaks, mostly spent staring at the screen instead of interact with peers. Ugolini explained that she wanted to give her students a gift, offering them six hours of detachment from smartphones and therefore of true freedom. While news of similar measures arrives from other institutes all over Italy, it seems that the boys have taken the surprise blow and, all in all, have taken the new situation well, even if they are probably not yet fully convinced that they have received a gift.
But is it really necessary to make such extreme decisions? Wouldn’t it be enough to focus on the training and responsibility of every child, of age or almost? In reality, this was precisely the line in our country, at least in recent years, in particular after the publication of the Decalogue for the use of mobile devices at school wanted by the education minister Valeria Fedeli in 2018 which supplemented the signed 2007 directive by the then minister Giuseppe Fioroni, in which the use of smartphones was prohibited during lessons. The invitation for the boys was to bring their own mobile phone (according to the “Byod” formula, Bring your own device, bring your device), but only to carry out activities planned by the teacher in the belief that the school could not remain excluded from the digital world in which students spent an increasing part of their time. And that it was the task of the school itself to train in a “conscious approach to digital as well as the ability to use sources critically”, as stated in the document.
A shareable goal, of course. Four years later, and in the midst of a pandemic that has made the use of technology in teaching even more pervasive – and in some cases indispensable – we must recognize that the mere presence of devices at school, albeit accompanied by training initiatives that are often very series, has not always given the desired results. There are two kinds of problems that led some principals, even before the Covid emergency, to intervene to regulate the use of smartphones in the classroom. The first is distraction during school hours: the use of mobile phones at school is mostly of a playful type, entertainment during boring lessons. The second concerns the relational difficulties, evident in moments of recreation, which often result in forms of bullying, or simply in a substantial mutual indifference. The educational aspect remains central, but it is also necessary to deal with the characteristics of a tool – the smartphone – designed to attract our attention at all costs, to the point of pushing us to forms of addiction or even simply excessive use, difficulties in check the time we dedicate to it. Goodwill is not enough because, as Chris Anderson, former editor of the digital culture magazine “Wired” very well summarizes, “on the scale from candy to crack, the smartphone is closer to crack”, as “it directly affects the centers. of the pleasure of the developing brain ».
Research seems to agree with him, suggesting a certain caution in introducing use. The World Health Organization recommends that you wait 2 years of age before letting children use screens. A recent study by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, published in the authoritative scientific journal “Jama Pediatrics”, supports the hypothesis of a negative impact of early exposure to screens, both from a cognitive and a relational point of view. While a research commissioned in 2021 by the WHO, relating to the previous four years, indicated the excess of connection as a risk factor for the mental health of children between 11 and 17 years. In the school, those who have tried to intervene in recent years have taken note of the difficulties in managing the instrument and have gone in the direction of containment and prohibitions, as measures, even if only temporary, to regain a mastery of the technology. At the Liceo Gonzaga in Palermo, a Jesuit school, the ban on smartphones at school came into force in 2018. The then rector, Father Eraldo Cacchione, explains that the measure had been taken to counter a situation in which the boys “were always with their heads bowed on the screen, especially during breaks, and had few relations with each other. Our aim was not repressive but educational. The confiscation of the smartphone and the possible sanction were always accompanied by a direct relationship with the boys. We wanted to establish a relationship of trust with them, not police control ». The result was positive and immediately visible.
In the school, those who have tried to intervene in recent years have taken note of the difficulties in managing the instrument and have gone in the direction of containment and prohibitions, as measures, even if only temporary, to regain a mastery of the technology.
The initiative of the San Benedetto sports high school in Piacenza also had a similar outcome, which in 2019 required students to insert their smartphones in a special shielding envelope at the school entrance. “The main change we encountered was returning to feel the ‘presence’ of the children, their full participation during the lessons – says the principal Fabio Bertamoni – while their absence was palpable before, absorbed by what was happening on the screen”. The first evidence seems to confirm a correlation between the abolition of cell phones at school and improved student performance, as well as a decrease in cyberbullying cases (studies conducted in Australia, Spain, Norway and Belgium on schools of various grades point in the same direction). Moreover, the prohibitions are now a reality also in various European countries. To continue along this line, however, the relationship of trust that is created between teachers and students is fundamental. The initiative, announced in these days by the dean of the Liceo Carducci in Milan, Andrea Di Mario, is aimed at such an objective to start a consultation with their students on the use of time in relation to technology.
The road to a healthier way to use digital tools presupposes an alliance between school and family, which should start in elementary school, when the smartphone appears ever earlier (in 28% of cases already before the age of 10) and the correct usage habits. In this regard it is worth asking: why the most worried now seem to be high schools, if the problems begin to be encountered precisely in primary school, or in the first years of secondary school, that is, at an age in which there is an absolute impossibility of children to dominate the instrument? It would be necessary to start from the foundations, family and school allied for a gradual introduction of the smartphone and a serious training of parents. Pacts are already emerging between primary school parents who, together with the school, agree on this objective. A new initiative promoted by the Bicocca University of Milan, which has among its partners the associations Mec, Aiart and Sloworking, intends to promote the creation of ‘community pacts’ for the digital education of children. The belief behind the project is that if it is true that a village is needed to raise a child, it is even more so when technology is involved (info: www.pattidigitali.it). Perhaps starting like this, in high school the fruits of shared work could be reaped. And count on guys who are able to understand for themselves when the cell phone goes off.