The Use of Mobile Phones in Schools

Australian school kids mobile phone

There’s no doubt that technology in schools has countless benefits. From institution management software and finance systems to high speed internet and the laptops and tablets used in classrooms, technology has accelerated the learning experience and empowered both educators and learners. But not every piece of technology is welcomed into classrooms. Mobile phones, and whether they should be allowed at school, has gained considerable attention and sparked debate across Australia. In fact, many states have banned the use of phones in schools altogether. In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of using mobile phones in schools, how mobile phones play a role in IT compliance in schools and whether an all-out ban is the best solution.    

The benefits of mobile phones in schools

As we’ve established, digital tools benefit schools in many ways, accelerating the learning experience, streamlining administration and connecting students, parents and educators in real time. So, what role do mobile phones play within that ecosystem of such effective technology? 

There is no doubt that mobile phones are more easily accessed than laptops and other devices, meaning that they would be the technology of choice when performing functions including checking in to school events, taking part in ongoing group conversations, and any other function that required immediate engagement. There is also the fact that mobile phones make accessing educational content much quicker and easier. Students will be able to engage with this content on-the-go, which significantly amplifies their learning experience. Mobile phones also provide a sense of safety as a means to contact a parent or guardian in the case of an emergency. 

Unfortunately, with these benefits comes a rabbit hole of distractions. Communication between students during class, as well as games, apps and social media have proven to be a significant hindrance to students being able to focus on the learning material in a class. 

Developmental psychologist and Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, Terry Bowles says, “Some technologies are as good a tool at stimulating learning as they are at stimulating distraction.” 

Another factor to consider is that students using mobile phones would need to do so in accordance with IT compliance in schools. The number of mobile phones is significant, but there is also the fact that every phone uses third-party apps and software that may not be secure. All of these mobile devices would connect to, and interact with, the school’s infrastructure – which could pose a serious safety risk unless IT compliance in schools was strongly enforced. 

Current mobile phone rules in Victorian schools

In 2021, the Minister for Education attempted to encourage a learning focussed approach to mobile phones in schools by enforcing a mobile phone policy across Victoria.  

The policy states that although the use of technology is important, the risks need to be managed, outlining that all mobile phones brought to school must be switched off and stored securely during the school day. It includes that parents should contact their children through the school office in the event of an emergency, and that teachers could grant a classroom-based learning exception. The policy excludes primary and secondary schools, who are subject to a complete ban on mobile phone usage during school hours.

The banning of mobile phones in schools 

Victoria was among the first states to ban mobile phones in both primary and secondary schools. The ban has had a domino effect, seeing many more mobile phone bans being enforced across Australian schools. This approach has garnered both negative feedback and unwavering support.  

Recently, Education Minister Jason Clare spoke out on the matter – saying, “I think the time has come for a national approach to the banning or the restriction on the use of mobile phones by students in schools.”

The Australian Psychological Society has found that mobile phones are the biggest behavioural addiction challenges of the 21st century, as outlined in their Problematic Mobile Phone Use (PMPU). 

A national ban would follow in the footsteps of countries including China, France and Sweden, and would most likely mean that students in all government primary and high schools will have mobile phones partially restricted or completely banned at their schools.

What does the research say? 

A great deal of research has been done around the use of mobile phones, with some of it focussing on at-school usage. Results have shown that overexposure to screens has significantly negative effects on a student’s brain. The results detail that learners who have had too much screen time may experience decreased learning ability, and may encounter negative effects on their cognitive development and psychological well being.

Having recently banned mobile phones across schools in News South Wales, the NSW Government has announced a $2.5 million research fund, which was created to support research into the impact of “problematic” screen time on young people. The eagerly awaited results are due three years from now. 

Australian studies from 2016 support the national guidelines on screen time, recommending that children between 5 and 17 have no more than two hours’ sedentary recreational screen time per day, with no screen time for children under two years and just one hour per day for those 2 to 5 years of age. eSafety Parents offers an in-depth handbook on screen time for parents and their children. 

Is a mobile phone ban the right solution? 

While the issue certainly is contentious, what is largely agreed upon is the need for a healthy use of, and relationship with technology. A ban has the potential to send the wrong message about technology to younger students, with the added chance that mobile phones will be used in secret, because the issue has become taboo. 

Another issue with an all-out ban is that, although it directly affects them, the decision doesn’t take the learner into account. A ban shows very little trust in learners following the IT compliance in schools, and doesn’t include their point of view on the matter. This is especially relevant for older students. At that age, building a learner’s confidence in their own point of view is significantly important. Foregoing this opportunity has the potential to come across as a lack of confidence in their ability to regulate their phone usage themselves.   

Optimising education outcomes  

As technology becomes more and more inherent to student’s daily lives, whether mobile phones will ever form part of that experience remains unclear. Although there are benefits to both sides of the issue, one thing remains certain – that technology is helping to accelerate, shape and streamline education across our country. As a leader in the IT and cybersecurity field for schools, NetStrategy believes in comprehensive cyber safety solutions that allow schools to focus on inspiring their students instead of worrying about their cybersecurity. We offer a range of services to ensure your school is kept safe, including digital audits and advice, IT risk assessment and solution management, IT compliance in schools and ongoing support across the spectrum of your cybersecurity needs.

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