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Ban on mobile phones in schools is short-sighted

ABC News logo ABC News 27/06/2019 By Dan Hogan
A girl looking at her mobile phone © ABC News Images A girl looking at her mobile phone

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

A plan to ban mobile phones in public schools is as blunderbuss in intent as it is disconnected from reality.

The heavy-handedness of legislating a singular device ban is straight out of the alarmist's book of bandaid solutions.

To go full teacher-talk for a second: it is a poor behaviour management strategy.

Prohibition will get us nowhere

Where there is prohibition there will be bootleggers, which gives rise to a whole new set of problems.

Phones have become an entrenched component of our personal and professional lives. To ban phones from "first to last bell" is to commit an immense disservice to students.

In no more than two generations, the adults have transformed how our lives interface with the world; an interface defined by incessant connectivity, notifications, and infinite scrolling.

A law that isolates children from the very real challenges of managing themselves in a world beholden to devices is lazy at best.

We owe students an education in navigating and coping with the hyper-connected environment we have created for them.

Prohibition puts the blame back on children and is a counterproductive denial of the reality of modern life. It is a displacement of our collective responsibility to prepare students for life beyond school.

And it's condescending

Teachers are already reckoning with devices by cultivating a classroom culture in which the boundaries of phone usage are clearly established.

Chastising all phone usage is a marked condescension of students' ability to understand how technology can be problematic.

Students are literally organising en masse to strike for radical climate action while the government fails to understand how burning fossils is causing a catastrophic climate crisis.

The kids know a thing or two about the connection between the harm caused by not paying attention and the fallout of technological overuse. Lol.

But I digress.

A larger conundrum

The issue is not generational, it is societal.

A widespread distraction in the form of phone usage in classrooms is not the fault of students. It is an issue that speaks to a larger conundrum.

The blanket phone ban is to blame students by proxy as once again we ask children to pick up the pieces of a mess we adults created.

The fact that our lives have become tied to our phones is not the fault of students.

We have created the conditions in which students feel compelled to be constantly tethered to their devices.

The connections contained in our phones are real and intensely personal.

An equity issue

It is high time that policymakers stopped zombifying the long-expired rhetoric that technology in the classroom is inherently counterproductive.

If anything, learning isn't being lost to phones in classrooms, it is being lost to a poverty of quality resources.

Students would feel less compelled to use their phones if the technology provided to them by government funding was up to scratch.

Phones are a valuable learning tool when used as one. In a lot of public schools, phones are the most reliable technology going, particularly for research.

Alienating a specific technology that is an inherent part of life is reductive as it sends a confusing message to students.

Interestingly, it is public school students who will suffer the ban while their independent and private school counterparts enjoy a spoil of technological treasures and funding - bureaucracy free.

From my experience as a teacher, I can tell you that your average smartphone can get more done than any laptop lying around a public primary school right now.

And yet here is the government further depriving public school students by throwing their devices in phone jail.

Where is the nuance?

Like any absolutist measure, it is a policy that fails to understand the nuances and complexities of the issues it is supposed to remedy.

Students will still have access to the internet via laptops, computers, tablets, and other devices anyway — removing phones from the cluster won't stop bullies.

Cyberbullying — like bullying — is an antisocial behaviour informed by a multiplicity of contexts that won't be remitted by a capture-all solution.

What policymakers need to learn is that phones don't bully people, people bully people.

From my experience as a teacher, I have to say the stark reality is that bullies will find a way, online or offline.

Prohibition of one specific device doesn't address the causes and culture of bullying, which is a problem bigger and more insidious than can be attributed to phones.

We need to talk to each other about the problems associated with technology in our classrooms and workplaces.

Plus, the last thing we need is another day of learning lost to vacuous praise for bureaucrats who think they're saving the children from themselves.

Dan Hogan is a writer and teacher.

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