Studies show that Australians spend one third of their day in front of screens, and for Americans, looking at screens occupies nearly half of their day.
However, a growing body of research suggests that any more than a couple of hours in front of a screen can have a damaging impact on the brain – particularly when it comes to cognitive functions.
To address this, some states have moved to ban smartphones from classrooms, and some schools have seen a marked improvement in student wellbeing, and academic outcomes, as a result of removing this technology from their classrooms.
At Loreto College Marryatville, an all-girls school located in South Australia, students are seeing a number of health, social and academic benefits as the result of its updated policy around the use of mobile phones.
The change to Loreto’s no phone policy was put into place several years ago based on student feedback.
“At the time we asked our Year 12 student leaders to work with us in developing a new phone policy as our current one was not working as many girls were on their phones throughout the day,” the school’s principal, Dr Nicole Archard, told The Educator.
“The feedback from the girls was rather than changing our policy with regard to girls being allowed to access their phones at school, the girls wanted us to uphold our policy of no phones at school.”
Dr Archard said teenagers find themselves under a lot of social pressure when it comes to phone usage and by having a no phone rule, the girls found this much easier as they didn’t need to conform to peer pressure.
“The result has been that girls are now able to feel comfortable participating in social interaction without needing the crutch of their phone. This also assists with student wellbeing where for school hours, girls don’t need to worry about ‘who is liking what’ photo on Instagram,” she explained.
“Instead, the girls engage with each other through conversation and being more physically active.”
However, having a no phone rule doesn’t mean Loreto is lagging in education on responsible phone usage. This important topic this is a core focus of the school’s Social, Emotional and Academic Development (SEAD) Program.
“Girls not only learn responsible phone usage, but also how to keep safe online and how to deconstruct the many images they will see online so that they do not judge themselves against them,” Dr Archard said.
“Girls are also invited by the teacher to use their phones for learning purposes in their lessons, this includes using various Apps, taking photos of their learning, and creating digital texts. Thus, our focus regarding the no phone rule is to assist girls with their social and emotional development, whilst allowing phones only at appropriate times to facilitate learning outcomes.”
Reviving the dying art of conversation
Loreto students can bring their phone to school but unless a teacher invites the phone into the lesson for an educational purpose, then phones are not to be seen.
Under the school’s policy, mobile phones and personal devices must be switched to silent mode from 8.30am-3.15pm and it is the student's responsibility that these devices do not interrupt the school day.
“If phones are seen, they are then removed, and a parent needs to come and collect it – sometimes this can take days. This might sound harsh, but that’s how serious we feel the situation with mobile phones has become,” Dr Archard said.
“The result is, when you walk around the playground at Loreto at recess or lunch, you won’t see groups of girls gathered around with their faces glued to their screen, instead you will see them practising the dying art of holding a conversation.”