School IT Blog

Should Schools Ban Smartphones?

Mon 15 October, 2018

Earlier this year, the French government reignited a debate around one key question in education: should phones be allowed in schools? The government ruled that they should not, and earlier this year a new law was passed that banned all children in France under the age of 15 from using their phones at any point in the school day.

According to Business Insider, the French government were concerned about the possible distractions that smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches could pose. This blog, however, will examine the pros and cons of such a ban. 


Productivity boost

The French government’s focus on the distractions that phones pose is certainly well-founded. A 2015 study from the London School of Economics found that schools that banned mobile phones saw an improvement in academic results, with test scores increasing by 6.4%. The study also suggested that low-achieving and low-income students gained the most from the bans. Test scores for these students improved twice as much as they did for other students.

However, it is worth noting that while the ban was useful for these students, the report highlights how it did not have any noticeable effect on those who were already achieving good grades. In addition, the study focuses on test scores of those aged 16 - beyond the age of the ban in France. 


A ban could prevent online bullying

With Ofcom reporting that around 1 in 8 young people have been bullied on social media, the scale of online bullying needs to be considered. With so many children on social media, the opportunities for bullying where teachers cannot regulate it are higher than ever. Smartphones are one of the easiest ways to send abuse, and without them, it may be easier to teach students to respect one another.


Smartphones and social media are linked to anxiety and depression

In addition to this bullying, social media, in general, has been linked to a rise in mental illnesses among young people. A 2017 study found that teenagers who spend five or more hours per day on smartphones, or other devices, are 71% more likely to have one risk factor for suicide. It was also found that three hours a day was enough to produce a drastic increase. 

Considering the pressure for young people to compare themselves to others regardless, it is not surprising that social media’s focus on sharing every detail has a detrimental effect. A Danish study even developed a term for this - ‘Facebook envy’ - when people feel jealous of their friends’ activities on social media. 


Can be used as a learning tool

When considering whether phones should be allowed in schools, it’s important to acknowledge the opportunities they can present for new learning methods. Educational App Store provides links to hundreds of apps that can be used to boost students’ learning, such as Duolingo, which can help with students learning new languages, or Notability, which allows students to take notes in a variety of ways. 

Making the most of students’ technology can lead to increased engagement and better results. However, doing so presupposes that all students have access to smartphones, when this may not be the case for lower-income students.


Banning the use of certain apps in school

One way to reduce the negative effects of social media, while boosting a phone’s use as a learning tool is through the restriction of certain apps. One company, Xerofone, already provides such a solution, allowing apps to be remotely blocked. If such software could be appropriately and viably mapped out in schools, it is possible that smartphones would not need to be banned, simply controlled.

This provides the best of both worlds, as the benefits for smartphones in learning can be maximised, whilst removing the negative impact of social media and distraction. 


Labelling phones as ‘forbidden’ may actually increase the desire to use them

Teenagers are not renowned for following rules. By attempting to control students’ use of phones, it may instead create a backlash, as there is greater temptation to break the rule. 

This could be exacerbated depending on how the ban is regulated. If it is done with an iron fist, with schools threatening extreme punishment for bringing in phones, it may increase animosity between students and teachers, as well as leading to students rebelling. If it is not done drastically enough, however, it is hard to see how it is possible to regulate the use of phones in schools. It could be hard to tell if a student has a phone on them unless they are using it in front of a teacher. Students may simply continue to use their technology away from teachers and could get better at hiding it.

It is not clear, then, how such a ban may operate, and how effective it would be.

So, should phones be allowed in schools? It is a difficult question with strong arguments on either side. It appears that the best solution could be Xerofone’s attempt to block certain apps and maximise the way in which phones can be used to aid education. However, the software is still new and likely requires some further development until it can viably be rolled out in every school. Until then, the question remains controversial.