Hold the phone on a blanket ban

By Greg Whitby, 19 February 2020
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Since the beginning of the 2020 school year, mobile phones have been banned in NSW State schools. If you think that’s that, hold the phone: a new study calls this hard line approach into question.

This new research on teenagers’ mental health in the digital age suggests that the public pile on over pupil phone use may be both hasty and unjustified. The authors highlighted problems with earlier research, and made recommendations about future studies that could provide better insights.

It’s really exciting to hear some of the ways that teachers who embrace this technology are working smartphones into their teaching. There are some great smartphone apps that let teachers test students on the spot to see whether they’ve understood a lesson, and adjust their teaching then and there. Another interesting approach is using an app to let students share feedback with their teachers about lessons while they’re in progress!

I think schools are at their best when they deliver learning that is relevant to young people’s lives. Students (just like their teachers, parents and carers) continue to find mobile phones useful. In New York, where a blanket ban on mobile phones in schools was in place for many years, a key reason for restoring their use was that families were finding it difficult to get in touch with their kids.

Many parents and carers will continue to strongly support a blanket ban on smartphones in schools. I’m all for schools making appropriate rules around the use of technology to support student learning. Yet I still think that completely prohibiting use of this technology is a missed opportunity to teach students to use smartphones responsibly at school. This issue is what we would call in the profession ‘a learning opportunity’.

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


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