A recent UN report is of the opinion that smartphones should be banned in schools to forestall classroom disruption and cyber-bullying, as well as improve learning.
UNESCO, the UN’s agency for education, science and culture, stated that there was evidence which links excessive mobile phone use to reduced educational performance. It was also discovered that high levels of screen time had a negative effect on children’s emotional stability. In addition, UNESCO said its call for a smartphone ban sent a clear message that digital technology as a whole, including artificial intelligence, should always fall in line with a “human-centred vision” of education, and never usurp physical interaction with teachers. UNESCO warned the world’s policy makers that new isn’t always better and that the impact of technology on learning could be overestimated.
A section of the report read,
“Those urging increasing individualisation may be missing the point of what education is about,” it read.
UNESCO said in the report that countries needed to make sure they had clear objectives and principles in place to ensure digital technology in education was beneficial and avoided harm from coming both to individual students’ health, and more widely to democracy and human rights. Instances of these are seen in invasion of privacy and stoking of online hatred.
Also, excessive or inappropriate student use of technology in the classroom and at home, whether smartphones, tablets or laptops, could be distracting, disruptive and result in a detrimental impact on learning. The report cited large-scale international assessment data that indicated what it termed a “negative link” between excessive use of digital technology and student performance.
Although technology could potentially open up opportunities for learning for millions, the benefits were unequally spread, with many poorer people from around the world effectively excluded, it further read. According to the report, a digital educational infrastructure was expensive, and its environmental costs are often underestimated.
There was a little amount of proven research to demonstrate that digital technology inherently added value to education. The United Nations agency for education, science and culture said in its 2023 Global Education Monitor report. A considerable amount of this evidence showed that the technology overload was funded by private education companies trying to sell digital learning products. Their growing influence on education policy around the world was “a cause for concern”, according to UNESCO. As a result, there is a movement to ban smartphones in schools around the world.
Prior to this report which was released on July 26th, 2023, China had set boundaries for the use of digital devices as teaching tools, limiting them to 30% of all teaching time, with students expected to take regular screen breaks.
The government accepted that online learning prevented education from melting down when schools and universities closed during Covid-19 lockdowns. It estimated that more than a billion students globally moved to online learning during the pandemic but also added that millions of poorer students without internet access were left out.
From an analysis of 200 education systems around the world, UNESCO estimated one in four countries had banned smartphones in school, either through law or guidance.
An example was France, which introduced this policy in 2018. In many French schools, if teachers see a phone being used or hear one ring in class, the phone is confiscated until the end of the day–sometimes the week–when it must be collected from the principal’s office. Additional detentions are also given out. French schoolchildren are now used to making sure their phones are switched firmly off before heading into school in the morning.
In the same train is the Netherlands, which is set to bring in restrictions from 2024.
Announcing the ban this month, the Dutch education minister, Robbert Dijkgraaf, said:
“Students need to be able to concentrate and need to be given the opportunity to study well. Mobile phones are a disturbance, scientific research shows. We need to protect students against this.”
In the UK, things are not as accelerated as the above-mentioned countries, the former education secretary Gavin Williamson called for a mobile phone ban in schools in 2021 as part of action against poor student discipline. However, this was dismissed as a distraction by education unions who said schools had smartphone use policies in place for years.
In the United States of America, due to the frequent occasions of school shootings, parents tend to want the opportunity to contact their children more in case of emergencies. The New York Times reported that this was one of the reasons why a school cell phone ban in New York was overturned in 2015.