Smartphones could be banned or their use severely restricted in schools

Rob Stokes says, "While smartphones connect us to the world in ways never imagined just a decade ago, they raise issues that previous generations have not had to deal with".
Rob Stokes says, "While smartphones connect us to the world in ways never imagined just a decade ago, they raise issues that previous generations have not had to deal with".

Smartphones could be banned or their use severely restricted in schools following a review ordered by state Education Minister Rob Stokes.

The move follows warnings by education experts of damage being done to children’s learning and concerns by parents about cyber bullying.

The review of the use of technological devices in schools, will be led by prominent child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg.

“While smartphones connect us to the world in ways never imagined just a decade ago, they raise issues that previous generations have not had to deal with,” Mr Stokes said in a statement.

“In the classroom and in the playground, smartphones provide opportunities for students and parents to stay connected, but can also create other problems.

“From screen time, to cyberbullying and social media, smartphones have generated concerns for parents, teachers and students. Schools need to have better rules in place around phones.”

Mr Stokes said it was Australia’s first comprehensive review on the issue.

“It is important that we examine parameters around their use in schools to ensure that they are not a distraction from learning,” he said.

“The review will investigate the risks versus rewards of mobile phone usage inside the school gates.

“Every school I visit has anecdotal examples about the perils or positives surrounding the use of smartphones and other devices in schools.

“Principals are adopting a range of approaches to managing their use, and we want to ensure we provide the best possible advice to help them support their students and parents.

“The review will examine the impact of the use of devices in schools on students of different ages in terms of educational outcomes and child development, as well as their potential benefits when used as part of contemporary teaching practice, particularly for students in the latter years of high school.

“Other issues for consideration will include social media age restrictions, student online safety, examining the prevalence of cyber bullying on school grounds, restricting the use of mobile phones at primary schools and the importance of students being contactable while travelling to and from school.

“The review will be informed by consultation with parents, students, teachers and principals.

“Specialist advice will also be sought from local and international experts in the fields of child development, cyber bullying, teaching practice and technology.”

A world renowned Finish education expert, who will join the University of New South Wales as professor of education this year, said in May smartphones should be banned at primary level, and high schools should “act quickly” to teach tech self-discipline to stem the damage they were causing children’s learning.

Dr Pasi Sahlberg told Fairfax Media smartphones were distracting students from reading, school-related work, physical activity, and high-quality sleep.

He believed smartphone-related distraction was one of the main reasons why Australia and similar countries were sliding down Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings.

“Schools everywhere need to react very quickly to cope with the smartphone issue,” he said.

“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.”

Dr Sahlberg said a complete ban at high school level was difficult, because students didn't know the world without technology.

Instead, each school must work out the best way to teach its pupils how to exercise self-control around their phones. 

Teachers Federation President Maurie Mulheron said last month smartphones were dominating students' lives “to an extraordinary degree”.

“They don't ever get a chance to switch off from school or relationships with people at school,”, she told Fairfax media.

“They are both psychologically and emotionally connected to these devices - adults are too, but for kids it's particularly powerful.

“Whether we ban or limit or educate, and how we do that, that's the more difficult terrain.”

  • With AAP and Fairfax Media