Jane Caro: Banning Phones In Schools Is Easy To Say But Hard To Do
Victoria has just banned phones in government schools, a move that has been greeted with approval by almost everyone who doesn’t work in a school.
The response of Victorian teachers and principals, as far as I can see, has been muted. This may be because they are content with the idea but, given that public school staff understandably don’t criticise their employer publicly, how would we know? And their response matters because they are the people who will have to police such a ban. I can only hope the Victorian government and department have developed this ban in collaboration with school staff and have not imposed it upon them.
It is claimed that banning phones in schools will help kids to concentrate in class and will prevent cyber-bullying. It will be interesting to see if it actually has such positive effects. What is more interesting to me, initially anyway, is how such a ban can actually be put into practice.
The ex-deputy principal of a NSW secondary school that has a phone ban said that policing the school’s policy took up an enormous amount of her time. The school has a three-strikes-and-you-are-out policy -- the phone-using student is warned three times, then the phone is confiscated and only returned at 3pm. If the student has a phone confiscated three times or more, it can only be returned to a parent.
As the ex-deputy (now principal at a school that does not ban phones) wryly remarked, this led to an escalation of the usual abuse she was exposed to in an average day -- from both hysterical students and furious parents.
And this also matters. A couple of weeks ago I was the MC for a conference of public school principals -- not Victorian -- and one of the most pressing issues for them was the increasing abuse, intimidation and even violence they were experiencing at the hands of parents. Given the experience of the deputy above, a phone ban increases the emotional temperature in schools, all of which, across all sectors, are noticing tensions increasing exponentially.
And smart phones do not just have negative effects on education.
I have heard stories of internet failures in many classrooms and lessons only being able to continue because the kids hotspot the technology using their phones. That option will go. For students from more disadvantaged backgrounds, a smart phone may be the only access to technology they have and losing access even for just a day can seriously impact their ability to do homework, study and keep up.
Nevertheless, many school staff are open to the idea of banning phones as long as they get help to put such a policy into practice. Some who do not work in schools have airily shrugged phones can just be locked up in lockers -- but many public schools, especially poorer ones, do not have any lockers and certainly do not have one for each student. Will funding be forthcoming to install them?
If there are no lockers, where will phones live during the day? Who will collect them? Who will return them?
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It is not realistic to expect kids to just leave them at home. Many parents will actively undermine that option as it is increasingly parents who call their children during school time. If there are lockers or any other form of storage, who will be liable if they are broken into and phones stolen? Will schools, particularly cash-strapped ones get extra funding to pay for the extra staff needed to deal with all this extra work?
And will teachers and principals be expected to put their phones away too? After all, if you are expecting the kids to do something, surely you must model that behaviour yourself. And how will that make parents feel, no longer being able to contact teachers during school hours?
One thing schools know for certain -- rather better than politicians and policy-makers, it seems -- is that if parents work against their children’s school and actively undermine its rules and authority, it has a very detrimental effect on the child’s education. If parents and teachers work together on the student’s behalf, that is when they can make a really powerful difference.
So, if a sizeable number of parents work against the ban -- and if current school experience is any guide -- they will, it will not work and may actively do harm.
The Project will unpack this issue on tonight's show at 6.30pm on Network 10.