Schools Getting off the phones

There’s no doubt that the start of 2020 has been genuinely traumatic for many Victorians. For most school students, however, the keenest trauma has been on a decidedly smaller scale. Pocket-sized, even.

The state-wide mobile phone ban came into effect at the start of Term 1, meaning Victorian public school students are no longer able to use their devices during the school day unless expressly permitted. 

Members were divided over the ban when it was announced last year and some experts continue to call it misguided. A recent report in the Age featured a comment from Therese Keane, Associate Professor at Swinburne University, who essentially laid the blame for the ban on teachers being unable to help students use their devices properly.

“The decision is skewed towards placating teachers who cannot effectively integrate and manage technology in their classrooms,” she said.

I think it’s ridiculous that they’re banned in the yard as I think they should be able to communicate with parents, work, etc. on their breaks.

Oddly enough, the same report revealed that students were broadly in favour of the ban, despite initial reservations. While some were struggling to get used to working without listening to music on their headphones, they acknowledged that putting their phones away has had a positive effect on social interactions. These observations have been borne out by comments from on the AEU’s Facebook page.

“A number of students at my school have commented that they thought it would be frustrating, but they’re enjoying the screen-free time and connecting with people around them,” teacher Kim Jones said of her Year 9/10 students.

Jessica D’Lima said the benefits were also being noticed inside the classroom. “It’s been good to see more discussions during class time,” she said. “And I’m optimistically hoping that the amount of time I deal with bullying via social media will greatly reduce, if not disappear altogether!”

Great to see students talking to each other, making eye contact, even in class change-overs – I’m lovin’ it.

Although there was some concern that removing phones might actually make lunch time more difficult for anxious students, a few teachers pointed out that refuges already exist in most schools – in libraries, music and IT rooms.

Other teachers were less impressed, feeling that the ban had increased workload. “I think it’s ridiculous that they’re banned in the yard as I think they should be able to communicate with parents, work, etc. on their breaks,” another member said.

“My school banned phones in class last year and that was already working really well. It’s now creating more work as when you’re walking through the yard, you have to deal with students you don’t know who have phones.”

There were also some concerns from members who felt it was important that teachers were helping students use their phones responsibly, given their ubiquity in 21st century life.

Echoing the comments from Associate Professor Keane, Mandy Rudeforth argued that phones could be an important tool. “Students WILL have phones in university and WILL have them when they join the workforce. Banning phones in schools is simply avoiding educating students how to use a tool in a positive manner.”

Banning phones in schools is simply avoiding educating students how to use a tool in a positive manner.

Schools may need to give more thought as to how to tackle these teething issues, particularly around communication, but feedback suggests that the transition has been remarkably painless.

Some schools have required students to put their phones in their lockers at the start of the school day, while others – such as Warrnambool’s Brauer College – have purchased special pouches that allow students to keep their phones on them, although unable to access them until the pouch is unlocked again. This approach promises to make it easier for teachers to allow students access to their phones for a particular classroom activity.

Although some experts have chafed at the blanket approach of a government ban, members are reporting that the rubber seal of a government policy has made it easier to convince students to abandon their phones.

“The onus shifts from school policy to government policy, so students are complying,” says secondary teacher Sue Hatton. “We are not confiscating but requiring phones be in bags or in lockers from start to finish. Few hiccups, total transparency with Q and A in homeroom this morning. Was great to see students talking to each other, making eye contact, even in class change-overs – I’m lovin’ it.”

A number of students at my school have commented that they’re enjoying the screen-free time and connecting with people around them.

Teacher Laura Durham responded that removing phones from the classroom was actually helping students understand the proper place for phones.

“It’s a relief to see the constant and significant distraction removed, especially for senior students who seemed to use them more. It’s going to improve student outcomes. Like when we went to school, kids can use phones before they get there and after, so safety is still in place should a phone be for that purpose.”

All the same, members have reported a few hiccups implementing the new ban. Teachers and ES alike said the ban had made it hard for secondary students to check if there has been a change to the timetable. Some parents have complained to schools about being unable to easily contact their children during the school day.

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