Smart debate needed on smartphones

By Greg Whitby, 26 September 2018


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

Like the value of homework or school uniforms, many people have a strong view on whether mobile phones should be allowed in classrooms. Discussion has been re-ignited recently after Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan supported schools that wanted to ban phones, suggesting they can be a distraction. By the end of the year, the NSW Government will have finalised its review into the pros and cons of having mobile phones in classrooms, particularly in primary schools.

We all know that smartphones are go-to devices. Once upon a time we made sure we didn’t leave the house without the wallet; now we make sure we’ve got the phone as well. Smartphones are not only here to stay but they will keep getting smarter.

The comparison around responsible use is the same as the point I make about young people in cars. We don’t give the keys to a learner driver and say ‘have fun and drive safely’ nor do we allow 11-year-olds to gain their drivers licence. The use of smartphones, iPads or any other connected device requires appropriate adult supervision and instruction. Like driving, there needs to be clear rules and guidelines for use. The use of smartphones needs to be moderated by teacher and parents up until the time when students can demonstrate responsible and appropriate use.

Banning mobile phones in schools means that for the other 18 hours of the day, young people can access technology. All this does is create a greater divide between real-life and school-life. We know that smartphones can be a source of entertainment, but they are also a key way that students access information and support their learning.

Joanne Orlando, an educational researcher from Western Sydney University hit the nail on the head when she said that taking smartphones out of class may cut out the distraction but it won’t guarantee better learning outcomes. That happens when teachers deliver engaging relevant learning experiences for all learners.

Minister Tehan’s comments have highlighted again the need for a smart discussion on smartphones that should not be focused on whether the pen is mightier than the mobile. Rather, it should be which tools can we use to improving learning for every young person, and ensuring that those tools, whatever they might be, are used in a safe and supportive environment.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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