NSW high schools are now able to choose if and how they ban mobile phone use - what does that mean for their learning potential?

The NSW Government has banned mobile phone use during school hours in public primary schools and left high schools to work out if and how they want to implement their own bans. Secondary schools will consider a range of options to manage devices, ranging from complete restriction to promotion of safe, responsible and informed use. The decision will be made by individual schools in consultation with their communities. Clearly there are arguments for and against such restrictions. 

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Education Minister Rob Stokes said the new measures are in response to an expert review which shows rising cases of online bullying, inappropriate sharing of explicit images between students, predatory behaviour from strangers and unnecessary distraction for students. In The Conversation psychologist Danielle Einstein said mobile phones take the place of face-to-face conversation, create addiction and reduce tolerance for ambiguity (Why? They can't google the answer!) which correlates with psychological problems. 

However, the other four experts in The Conversation article were in favour of phones in schools. Reasons given included:

  • Bans only force teenagers to be secretive about phone use
  • Schools should move with the times and not be stuck in the 1950's
  • Ease of doing research, recording media and forming study groups
  • Parents like the safety aspect of being able to keep in touch
  • Students can access health apps and therapeutic interventions though their phones. 

The Illawarra Mercury recently reported that Associate Professor Sarah Howard from the University of Wollongong’s School of Education, is also against the phone ban. She says they have their appropriate uses and that the conversation we have about smart phones allows us to “develop in students good skills for making good decisions about technology use. When we ban it, we are not allowing [students] to be able to make that decision and limiting them from a really handy, cheap and available piece of technology that supports their learning.”

According to recent research reported in Science News, most students' grades suffer when they have phones at school  - down 13% on average. The reason: people can't really multitask, so anytime their attention is directed toward the device, the teacher is being ignored. (Other research suggests high-achieving students are not affected). 

With such divided opinion it is likely there will be a wide range of implementation of bans. Some schools might ban all mobile use outside of school hours, others allow unrestricted use, others ban phones in class time or allow certain apps such as Edmodo. Edmodo is a kind of educational Facebook replacement, promoted as enabling learners to be safe, connected and included - " to give even the quietest students a voice".

Other apps like Kahoot allow the class to join in quiz race from their phones that the teacher conducts  - said to be fun by students.

We can assume that divides will be created, but to whose advantage is unclear. Some students might be better at researching but at the same time be more anxious where ambiguity exists. Hope you're comfortable with that!