New South Wales may ban smartphones in schools

The call for tougher rules on smartphone use in Australian schools follows concerns about increased cyber-bullying via phones and other devices. But some experts say the focus should be on encouraging better use of smartphones rather than applying a
The call for tougher rules on smartphone use in Australian schools follows concerns about increased cyber-bullying via phones and other devices. But some experts say the focus should be on encouraging better use of smartphones rather than applying a blanket ban.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Aussie state to review case for ban following concerns over rise in phone-based bullying

Australia's most populous state will consider banning the use of smartphones in schools to try and prevent bullying, stalking and distractions during class time.

The move will be considered by a New South Wales (NSW) review into school phone use at all grades.

The review, announced earlier this month by state Education Minister Rob Stokes, follows growing concerns about an increase in phone-based bullying. There have been several incidents in which taunting or fights at schools have been filmed on phones and spread on social media.

The review will be conducted by child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, who has indicated support for a ban on smartphones in infant schools. He said phone use, at least for younger pupils, could potentially be limited to "dumb" phones that allow calls and texts only.

"There is absolutely a problem (with phones in schools)," he told 2GB Radio. "Remember the old dumb phones… which basically made phone calls, didn't have a camera and didn't have access to the Internet. Tell me why kids need more than that, particularly in primary school?"

Some experts have blamed excessive phone use in schools for the country's recent falling results in international education rankings.

THUMBS UP FOR DUMB PHONES

Remember the old dumb phones… which basically made phone calls, didn't have a camera and didn't have access to the Internet. Tell me why kids need more than that, particularly in primary school?

CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST MICHAEL CARR-GREGG

A survey in 2015 by the Programme for International Student Assessment found 15-year-old Australian students were between a year and two years behind students in Singapore - the top performer in science, reading and maths.

But critics of the ban say smartphones are an important part of today's schooling, and outlawing them will lead to "underground" and hidden use.

An expert on children and technology, Dr Joanne Orlando from Western Sydney University, said phones help to teach students about communication and data collection in ways that allow immediate feedback.

"If school students want to investigate, collect data, receive personalised and immediate feedback, record media, create, compose, or communicate with peers, in and beyond the classroom, then using mobile apps is ideal," she told The Conversation website on Thursday.

"Also, if they want to learn at a place, time and pace of their choosing, for example on excursions, or working on projects with friends in more informal spaces like home… then mobile devices are needed."

The call for tougher rules on phone use follows concerns about increased cyber-bullying via phones and other devices.

Australia's eSafety Commissioner released figures in April showing annual reports of cyber-bullying against school students increased by 28 per cent in the previous year. The review will invite public submissions and will consider practices overseas.

Several countries have imposed bans on phones in schools, including Malaysia and Uganda. France imposed a ban earlier this year.

Supporters of a ban said children, particularly at infant schools, should not need to access the Internet and social media on their phones and can use computers for relevant educational purposes.

Some schools, such as the private Shore School in Sydney, have banned the phones completely for students at all grades.

The school says both parents and students support the ban, which involves punishing students or confiscating phones if the devices are used or heard. "We feel they spend enough time on outside school hours as it is," the school's deputy head Rod Morrison told The North Shore Times earlier this year.

"At the start of every term I explain our policy and they understand. There's no push-back. They're used to it."

Some experts said the focus should be on encouraging better use of smartphones rather than applying a blanket ban.

Dr Carr-Gregg said the review will look at the ways in which smartphones could be used for educational purposes but noted that classroom use should be directed and overseen by teachers. He said the review will also consider the practice in the United Kingdom of requiring infant schools to provide compulsory cybersafety education.

"A lot of the cyber-bullying is because kids have not been taught to use the smartphones in a safe, smart and responsible manner," he said. "We have to educate these kids from the very earliest time on responsible use."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2018, with the headline 'NSW may ban smartphones in schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe