The Victorian Government recently announced a plan to ban all mobile phones in schools. It’s a policy that appeals to few students, many parents, and some teachers. I strongly believe that a ‘blanket ban’ is the wrong approach to technology so central to young people’s lives and potentially, learning. When it comes to smartphones, it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle.
Some worry that mobile phones are a source of distraction. Though distraction is a challenge in the classroom, there’s nothing new about it. The solution is learning and teaching that genuinely engages young people, and is relevant to their world. In response to genuine concern about the misuse of technology by students: what could be more relevant that learning how to use these tools responsibly?
PHOTO: Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
I want to be clear, I am all for schools making their own rules about mobile phones in the classroom and the playground. To share a few ideas, phones can be used to quickly test students on learning, photograph notes, record lessons and film classwork such as drama performances. Students also use phones to manage their vocational education work placements and liaise with their teacher mentors, coordinate part-time job commitments, access wellbeing apps and of course, phone home.
Another reason to oppose a total ban on phones in schools is because we know it doesn’t work: in New York, the same policy was overturned. Why? Key reasons were that it made it tough for families to stay in touch with their kids, and policing the ban was inconsistent.
So as I said at the outset, when it comes to mobiles at school, it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle. More importantly, the idea that banning phones will promote responsible use of technology is simply wishful thinking.