Strict rules on mobile phone use in many schools, some may confiscate phones for a year

A check by The Straits Times with 10 schools here found that it is common for schools to confiscate mobile phones for periods that range from a week to an entire semester, or about five months. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Most schools here impose strict rules on mobile phone usage in class, given that they can be a major source of distraction, and students may easily misuse phones for other purposes like circulating banned content in class.

If students break these rules, it is not uncommon for their phones to be confiscated.

And yes, they can be kept by the school for a few months. Repeat offenders may even have their phones retained for the remainder of the school year, a check by The Straits Times on 10 schools found.

The issue of mobile phone use in schools has come under the spotlight after it was reported on Tuesday that a parent had sued the principal of Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) after his son's phone was confiscated. The parent had also argued that the mobile phone, which belonged to him, should be returned immediately.

The student's father had said that keeping the phone for three months was "disproportionate" to his son's offence in March of using an iPhone 7 during school hours.

The parent's application for the phone to be returned immediately was dismissed by the judge, who said the principal was simply following the rules. The suit for damages has not concluded.

Sales director Michelle Tan, 48, who has a son in Secondary 3 in the same school, said that she, along with other parents with children in the school, stood by the principal's decision to enforce the rules. "(It is) an excellent way to minimise distraction and temptation," said Ms Tan, adding that teachers had reminded students of the penalties for offences, which are also listed in the students' handbook.

Mr Lee Keng Siang, 21, who studied in ACS (Barker Road), said he had his phone confiscated by the school on three occasions, each time for three months. But he said that not having access to his phone helped him to focus on school work.

"We accepted the harshness of the punishment if teachers were to catch us using our phones during school hours," said Mr Lee, who is waiting to enter university.

A spokesman for ACS (Barker Road) said the rule has been in place for over 10 years, and has been communicated to all students and parents. "It has served as an effective deterrent against the misuse of handphones," he said, adding that the school is unable to comment further given that the case is pending before the courts.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said schools are provided with a set of guidelines for managing disciplinary issues and they have the discretion to set their own rules within this set of guidelines.

ST found that schools may confiscate phones for periods that range from a week to a year, depending on whether students are repeat offenders. In some cases, parents are required to go to the school in person to collect the phones.

These rules are communicated to parents and students on the school website, in letters to parents or at parent-teacher meetings.

For example, St Joseph's Institution (SJI) states on its website that mobile phones are completely banned from 7.30am to dismissal time on school days, and students who want to take their phones to school have to turn them off and surrender them to the class committee till the end of the day.

At East Spring Secondary, third-time offenders can have their mobile phones retained for the rest of the school year.

While ACS (Barker Road) returned the phone's SIM card to the student, some schools like Yuan Ching Secondary or Bukit View Secondary retain the SIM cards, along with the phones.

Acknowledging that some parents may be concerned about their child's well-being, most schools also have payphones or alternative arrangements for parents who want to contact their children urgently while they are in school, such as calling the school office.

ST understands that most polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education do not ban the use of phones on campus, though students are discouraged from using them for non-academic purposes in classes.

Parenting coach Jason Ng, 52, said that such confiscations can be "teachable moments" for students who flout school rules.

"Children can learn that they have to bear the consequences of their actions, and avoid repeating the same mistake in the future. They can also appreciate the importance of values like responsibility, respect and self-control."

Get the ST Smart Parenting newsletter for expert advice. Visit the microsite for more.