Should schools allow the use of mobile phones?
No they should not … if social media obsessed students are surreptitiously looking at the internet under their tables during class time. And what about phones being used for cyberbullying, happy slapping, filming fights and ridiculing teachers?
Hats off to Julia Polley, head at Wensleydale School and Sixth Form College, for trying. She became so exasperated at students’ fixation with their smart phones that she told parents she would be blocking 4G internet at the school. She wrote to parents saying;
“I have now invested in some technology which will block 4G signals on the school site and I have improved the filters on the wi-fi to further restrict some sites.”
However, her plans were undone when she was told by North Yorkshire County Council’s IT support team and Ofcom that this was a criminal offence. Another offence is disruptive learning – students deserve disruption-free learning every lesson, every time.
One article featured looks in particular at the banning of mobile phones in schools and reports that pupils perform better when they are banned from use in the classroom. It refers to a study from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and research by Louis Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy who surveyed schools in Birmingham, Leicester, London and Manchester about their mobile phone policies since 2001 and combined it with results data from externally marked national exams.
“Ill Communication: The Impact of Mobile Phones on Student Performance” found that after schools banned mobile phones, the test scores of students aged 16 improved by 6.4% which equates to “adding five days to the school year”.
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)
As there is no official policy or recommendation set out by the DfE regarding mobile phone usage in schools, policies are decided at the school level by the headteacher and the school’s governing body, and this has resulted in a large variation.
In 2001, no school banned mobiles and six years later this had risen to 50%. However, by 2012 some 98% of schools either did not permit phones on school premises or pupils had to hand them in at the start of the day.
The study used the differences in implementation dates across schools, relating the changes in pupils’ test scores within and across schools before and after a ban.
The research showed that pupil achievement improves as a result of a ban and low-achieving and low-income pupils gain the most. The study also found that the mobile phone bans had a greater impact on special education needs pupils and those eligible for free school meals but had no marked effect on high achievers.
“Schools could significantly reduce the education achievement gap by prohibiting mobile phone use in schools.”
I don’t think the research findings will surprise many people and the evidence seems pretty clear: ban mobile phones because they are distracting and have a negative impact on productivity. Well not quite, as Beland and Murphy conclude,
“However, these findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured.”
The main issue seems to be that the unstructured use of a multipurpose mobile phone is bad news but when used with a clear purpose then they can be a force for good.
The total banning of mobiles doesn’t teach responsibility of use and self-control. Students know what they shouldn’t be doing so give them the choice: use it responsibly and for educational purposes or lose your phone for the weekend (with parental permission of course).
Instead of trying to ban mobile phones, shouldn’t we be trying to make them work as part of a permissive policy?
This is what Professor Thierry Karsenti of the University of Montreal has found because banning is ineffective. He said students will find a way to bring phones into the classroom regardless of the rules and banishing the scourge was limited.
In Canada his research reveals that a growing number of school boards say they’ve had more success once deciding to stop fighting the technological tide and exploring ways to incorporate mobile phones into schools.
One school Karsenti look at permitted students to use their phones outside of class as they wished, but were kept visible and face-down on their desks during class time. He said this approach strikes the right balance and still gives teachers the flexibility to tap into the technology for their lessons.
Smartphones are here to stay and they do have a place as learning tools and as organisational tools. They can be used for research and educational apps and some apps like SIMS Student have been designed to help students so they can check their timetable, look at homework assigned to them, see how they are progressing against targets and receive reminder alerts. When a mobile phone is used in this way then students can be more engaged, informed and motivated and can start to use a phone more maturely.
Schools need to find ways to work mobile phones into the curriculum and help students be responsible users of technology. Professor Karsenti’s research tells us that schools have got to think differently because bans don’t work and demonising mobile phones is counter-productive.
Meet And Greet
There is one ban though that is perhaps worth having in place and that is to ban parents using mobiles when collecting their children. Liz King, headteacher at St Joseph’s RC Primary School in Middlesborough has done just that with a sign that says, “Greet your child with a smile, not a mobile”. Children running up to their phone-obsessed parents who are head-down in social media or writing a text message can never be a good thing, but it is a sign of the times.