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eSafety Commissioner lukewarm on mobile phone ban

The Victorian Government’s decision to ban mobile phones during school hours in all state secondary and primary schools next year has been met with mixed feelings from educators, parents and students, and the eSafety Commissioner herself.

The move is intended to curb cyber bullying and distractions in the classroom and is one of the toughest stances on mobile phone use in the world.

The policy was unveiled at McKinnon Secondary College on Wednesday, a school that has already introduced a school-hours ban on mobile phones and has reported positive changes in terms of social interaction and fewer distractions in class.

Some exemptions will exist for students who legitimately need their phones for health conditions and teachers will still be able to give permission to students to use their mobile phones for particular classroom activities.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino made the decision after repeated concerns were raised by both parents and teachers. It’s a surprising about-face for the Victorian Labor Government, which was initially against the move after it was mooted by the Coalition in February 2018.

Although the policy may cause controversy, Mr Merlino told the ABC it was the “right thing to do”.

“Teachers are constantly asking kids to put their phones away. This is common sense,” he said.

“It’s not going to [absolutely] resolve cyber bullying but it will make a big difference.

“We cannot stamp it out. It is going to occur. But we can take some real steps to reduce the level of bullying.”

He also cited research from Headspace to support the decision, which found that 53 per cent of all bullying occurs online. While many schools in the private sector have also introduced similar bans on mobile phones during school hours, many educators and parents are unconvinced that it was the right decision.

The Victorian Association of State Schools Secondary Principals president Sue Bell said the ban would diminish students’ abilities to self-manage. She also said it would cause a lot of conflict between students and teachers and mobile phones were often used for legitimate reasons in classrooms, such as taking photos of work and accessing calendars.

Some parents, too, have voiced their concern over the ban, with Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy saying that many parents rely on mobile phones to communicate with their children during lunch or recess hours, something that would be banned under the new policy.

Twitter has been abuzz with opposing views, with some arguing it was about time and others saying it is too much of a “blanket” policy and ignores the positive learning potential of mobile phones.

 

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant believes that, while the decision is ultimately one for education authorities, the policy shifts the focus of the problem from behaviour to technology and might not prepare students for the “workforce of tomorrow”.

“I don’t think anyone can deny that using Internet-enabled devices for personal use in the classroom is a clear distraction for our children’s learning potential. However, a big part of school is about preparing our children for the workforce of tomorrow – which is increasingly technology driven – so it’s important that digital technology is part of their learning journey. And, in many classrooms, kids are already working from tablets, PCs and other connected devices,” Commissioner Inman Grant said in a statement.

“This is ultimately a decision for education authorities but while the banning of smartphones in the classroom may help children focus on learning, and even may encourage them to interact socially on the playground, it is not a silver-bullet for addressing the root causes of cyber bullying and other online transgressions young people are facing today.

“These issues are not caused by technology – they are fundamentally behavioural and social issues playing out on these platforms. The use of smartphones in schools will often depend on a school’s level of engagement with technology, their policies, and their teachers’ capability to manage and respond to online issues. Thus, another major concern is the potential shifting of responsibility of duty of care for student wellbeing online and offline when technology use amongst school cohorts is shifted out of hours…

“While it would certainly make all of our lives easier if there were a single panacea to solve this problem, the reality is that we need to take a multi-pronged approach that involves the whole of community – parents, teachers, industry and young people all need to have a role in preventing and combating negative online experiences. Above all, we need to remember to be targeting the behaviours manifesting in all forms of online abuse, rather than just the technology.”

The policy will be reviewed at the end of next year.

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2 comments

  1. Sophie Cousipetcos

    I was overjoyed to hear the news about the ban on mobile phone during schools hours. I have worked in a school for 33 years and never have I experienced the amount of problems we face regarding mobiles. While we do try to police the use of the device, our hands are really tied when we approach students about using the device when they shouldn’t be, their excuse being “they are checking compass”. How then are we to respond? Even taking photos of the notes on the board – this givs the students an excuse not to focus on completing tasks because “they just a photo of it” and work on it later (supposedly). Extremely anti-social when they are all on their individual device even in a group situation and even more concerning, all grouped together looking at something on a screen. We have no way of policing what they research and what kinds of material they share. Hooray for those brave enough to introduce the ban.

  2. I great idea, basically gives legitimacy and consistency to most school’s policy anyway

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