Australia: banning mobile devices from schools and classrooms.
Section 1: Context
On 30th October 2019 the Government of Western Australia announced its introduction of a ‘State-wide mobile phone ban for WA public schools’ in response to concerns from parents and teachers . This included a ban on mobile phones during school hours from 2020 applying an “off and out of sight” policy. The ban covers mobile phones and “other devices”, e.g. smart watches (usually set to “airplane mode”), earbuds, tablets and headphones.
Primary schools (kindergarten to year 6) will not be permitted to have mobile phones in their possession during the school day.
Exemptions are allowed for special situations under the guidance or instruction of a teacher. Smart watches may be used where a medical condition might require its use. Mobile devices may be used for specific educational purposes when directed by a teacher. Note the quote from the Education and Training Minister that reinforces this aspect:
“I am absolutely supportive of using technology as a tool for learning, and this policy doesn’t limit those opportunities.”
The policy aims at improving the health and well-being of students, particularly to encourage social interaction and to reduce anti-social pressures that technology may enable. The ban will remove distractions.
Further Context (Western Australia)
At the time of assembling this article no formal report has been located beyond the official statement. Thus the level of public and professional concern on which the report is based is not (yet) quantifiable. Note that this statement refers to the use, with permission, of phones for monitoring health conditions, rather than smartwatches. The formal announcement above as well as the poster (downloadable here) refers to smartwatches).
A useful source of general data is the Monash University Report: Digital Lessons?. For example, wholesale bans can be divisive (see UK example here) but there is majority support limiting in-school use (and cross-party political support needed) (See Recommendations in the Monash report)
ABC News: refers to Ocean Reef High School as an example where guidelines had been successfully implemented prior to the official ban.
“Principal Karon Brookes said despite initial resistance from some students, the ban immediately reduced disruptions in the classroom and increased interaction in the schoolyard.”
And a Year 11 student is quoted in support:
“We are not distracted by notifications, so we are more focused in class and we are aware of what homeworks are given out [and] when assignments are due. So grades have improved.”
The Minister for Education points out that concerns about cyberbullying are not a major motivation as a school-based ban won;t stop that but that perhaps, by reducing the anxiety induced by feeling that social media is a 24/7 necessity, cyberbullying may be reduced.
Study International: A mobile ban reduces cyberbullying, removes distraction and improves social interaction. Students in favour as they come to appreciate the positive effects. Bans in the UK are decided by individual schools while a universal ban operates in Chinese schools:
“According to AsiaOne, ‘The regulation, adopted by the provincial legislature last month, calls on schools to keep such devices for the students during schooltime if they bring them to school, with the aim of curbing the incidence of myopia.
“Parents should also control the time their children spend on electronic devices, teach them to keep a proper distance from books and screens, and ensure a correct reading position and sufficient lighting,’ it says.”
Further news stories about similar bans in Austrialia
State of Victoria
State of New South Wales
- NSW government report
- NSW press release: Mobile devices banned in NSW primary schools
- ABC News: Mobile phones will be banned in NSW primary schools from next year
- Student Edge: Is Your School Banning Mobile Phones in 2020? Here’s What You Need to Know
Some evidence sources:
Banning mobile phones in schools: beneficial or risky? by Neil Selwyn
There is considerable public support for banning mobiles. [The Monash University] survey of more than 2,000 Australian adults found that nearly 80% supported a ban on mobile phones in classrooms. Just under one-third supported an outright ban from schools altogether.
Reasons to be cautious – research is mixed
Bans can be difficult to enforce, can create new problems and lead New York to reverse its ban: New York City ends ban on cellphones in public schools. Inconsistent enforcement – e.g inequity arising because more affluent schools more relaxed about usage and schools with metal detectors were in poorer districts so more likely to be more rigidly enforced. More recognition that teachers needed to be trusted more to make judgements about effective educational use.
Cyberbullying is complex, is only part of a pattern of bullying which often occurs occurs outside school hours, Bans of phones can hide immediate issues about bullying.
Distraction is not solely linked to smartphone use but also laptops and tablets. Negative distractions can be offset by beneficial uses (e.g. live-streaming and video of lesson content; information seeking etc.). Effective planning by teachers can use such technologies to support learning.
- Good Reception: Teens, Teachers, and Mobile Media in a Los Angeles High School by Antonio Garcia. Stanford University project “A year in the life of a ninth-grade English class shows how participatory culture and mobile devices can transform learning in schools.“
- Mobile phones in the classroom – what does the research say? By Dominique Russell
- The wording of the ban allows for individual schools and.or teachers to exercise judgement in the use of devices. As suggested in various sources, planning and preparation that involves the use of mobile devices can work to the benefit of students. This ban, and others, allows for exceptions to be exercised. Consistency of practice would be a key issue but presumably mobile devices should thrive under this approach.
- There remains some slight ambiguity as to the scope of the ban in relation to banned devices. The WA announcement makes explicit reference to the legitimate use of smartwatches for medical reasons but this might present issues in regard of the potential of smartwatches for accessing a wider range of functions (e.g. see https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/fitness-trackers/article/should-i-buy-a-fitness-tracker-or-a-smartwatch). Fitness trackers might be more appropriate but in either case there may be issues about privacy and tracking (e.g. see: https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/body/a29721054/fitbit-data-privacy-fears/).
- Any management of when and how to use mobile devices should take account of the type of issues raised in the Selwyn article (above) and other sources with respect to equitable treatment both within and across schools. There are justifications for exceptions that parents or students might present that may yet be challenging e.g. see: Schoolgirl wins right to use her iPod in exams.
- Does the ban/any ban apply to staff; should staff model usage of devices to be consistent with any ban and/or exceptions?