Earlier this year, French president, Emmanuel Macron, banned the use of mobile phones in primary, junior and middle schools – both inside the classroom and even outside in the school playground.
Under the new rules, students will be allowed to bring their phones to school, but are not allowed to get them out at any time until they leave, even during breaks.
Shortly afterwards, Australia’s Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, proposed that the country’s schools should follow suit as smartphones were “a distraction from lessons” and “a platform for bullies”.
The UK’s culture secretary recently suggested it would be a good idea for schools to ban mobile phones.
Matt Hancock, who is in charge of digital policy, said: “I admire headteachers who do not allow mobiles to be used during the school day. I encourage more schools to follow their lead. The evidence is that banning phones in schools works.”
However, some academics have come out against the idea, saying it is a band-aid solution to much more complex problems.
Stephen Corbett, head of school of education and childhood studies at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, said the proposal to ban mobile phones from schools has serious flaws.
“To start with, we already expect a great deal from our teachers. Do we now believe they should undertake ‘stop-and-search’ surveillance of students entering the school and classroom simply to remove a mobile phone?” Corbett wrote in The Conversation.
“Secondly, while the removal of the mobile phone may prevent the short-term issue, it does not prepare our next generation. Education providers are responsible for preparing students for the future.”
Corbett said “acquisition of knowledge is not enough”.
“We must ensure young people are ready for the next stage of their lives,” he said.
Garry Falloon, professor of digital learning at Macquarie University in Sydney, opposes a ‘blanket ban’ of mobile phones in schools. He said that schools should instead manage 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,” Professor Falloon said.
“Any use is controlled by the teacher, thereby still enabling the productive benefits as described above. Students and their parents got to know the routine, and there were few issues. Those who broke the rules, had them confiscated for the day – or longer.”
World-renowned Finnish education expert, Dr Pasi Sahlberg, says that while smartphones can be counterproductive to student learning, they are doing most harm at the primary level – and it is in these schools that they should be curbed.
“Smartphones don't belong in primary schools or young children under 12. For the sake of fairness and equity, [banning them in early years] would be the best thing to do,” he said.
To help students avoid becoming distracted, Dr Sahlberg said schools should teach them self-control in the context of limiting smartphone use to a healthy level.
“We should teach all children safe, smart and responsible use of technology. Every school in their own way,” he said.