Last week it was announced that a radical new policy for NSW schools could see students prohibited from bringing smartphones on to school grounds.
However, experts say that while the review is “a good idea”, the technology used for bullying or off-task behaviours shouldn’t be confused with their underlying causes.
Associate professor Matt Bower of Macquarie University said that even without smartphones, bullies will find other ways to harm their victims.
“While bullying is deeply concerning in all contexts, if it takes place on a smartphone rather than in the playground then at least the behaviour is on record and bullies can be held accountable,” Dr Bower said.
Dr Bower added that when it comes to improving student behaviour and avoiding smartphone distraction, ideally schools would be “helping students develop healthy relational and learning habits instead of automatically forcing mobile phone usage underground.”
“Every school and classroom is different, and a blanket ban fails to recognise that the benefits in some contexts may well outweigh the disadvantages,” he said.
‘Major advantages’ to smartphones in school
Dr Bower pointed to research which shows positive outcomes relating to the use of mobile devices during targeted learning activities.
“For instance, [smartphones] enable more personalised, authentic and collaborative learning,” he said.
“Mobile devices can also provide children with access to new augmented and virtual reality learning experiences. This is on top of the safety and logistical benefits of being able to contact parents or authorities.”
Dr Bower said a more “balanced approach” may be to advise phones are switched off in classes, if not being used for educational purposes.
“Ultimately, teachers and schools should have well-developed and consistently enforced policies that spell out what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of mobile phones, and the consequences for inappropriate usage,” he said.
“It is also important that the review considers physiological issues associated with mobile phone use by young people.”
Garry Falloon, professor of digital learning at Macquarie University, agrees that a blanket ban is not the ideal solution.
“In my view, it would be difficult to support students having continuous access to smartphones in class, if their use was not linked to a justifiable learning purpose,” Professor Falloon said.
“It’s hard to contest the fact that for many young people smartphones are an important tool for their social interaction, but they can be highly addictive and very distracting. Effective learning requires concentration and task application – and this does mean Snapchat, Facebook or the like.”
However, Professor Falloon pointed out that apps also have a positive role to play.
“On the other side of the coin, many apps can greatly support learning across the curriculum, for example in science inquiries where there’s apps available that can help with scientific measurements, or providing simulations of experiences unable to be replicated in conventional classrooms,” he said.
“So I do not think it is simply a matter of ‘blanket banning’ these devices, but rather managing their use. One really effective way I have seen this done in New Zealand is collecting devices before class and handing them back at the end.”