Yes, we can teach our children about technology, but let’s just ban phones in school

When I heard that Eton now requires its year 7s to hand in their mobile phones at bedtime, my immediate thought was I quite like the idea of a check-in, zone-out service that would confiscate my smartphone as the Love Island credits start to roll and return it in time for the 8am news bulletin. But if Eton expects its 13-year-old boarders to hand in their phones overnight, where are they the rest of the time? And why are older boys allowed to keep their phones overnight? The Guardian reports.

It is surely beneficial for all young people to have a few hours where they are disconnected and school, which should be a distraction-free zone, is the right place to enforce that. The educational benefits make it a no-brainer: an LSE study found that banning smartphone use in schools boosted results, particularly for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The researchers estimated it was equivalent to providing an extra five days of school for these young people, something that by my (admittedly back-of-an-envelope) calculation would cost more than £1bn a year for five- to 16-year-olds in England and Wales.

This would undoubtedly be opposed by those edtech evangelists who argue that banning phones will limit rather than augment learning. But to say the evidence that technology in schools improves learning is shaky would be a polite way of putting it. Others will complain that it’s impractical to enforce: won’t schools need to install secure lockers? But a technological solution such as 4G signal-jammers would mean that parents could still reach children after school, but access to the internet during the day could be tightly regulated by teachers.

A new report by the 5Rights foundation looks at how these addictive features affect young people. It highlights that excessive social media use is linked with anxiety, self-doubt and low self-esteem, aggression, bullying and sleep deprivation. “Scrolling forever gives me a sick feeling in my stomach,” one young person told researchers. “All I want to do is disconnect from my phone for a long period of time… but there are always pressures preventing me,” said another.

Nanny-statism in the form of school bans should absolutely form part of the response – this is stuff that kids deserve to be protected from – but we also need to develop children’s resilience to addictive technologies that fuel negative behaviour. That doesn’t mean simply teaching children about the dangers of social media in the classroom, which would be akin to letting loose a bunch of 17-year-olds on the roads with no more than a theory test under their belts. Instead, we should be providing safe spaces in which children can learn positive online behaviour.

CyberSmarties in Ireland is one such initiative. Its founder, Diarmuid Hudner, likens it to bike stabilisers for a social media age. It’s a locked-down, safe social network exclusively for seven- to 12-year-olds that works in partnership with primary schools, with more than 80,000 users.

While the government should be doing more to get social media companies to enforce age restrictions and to remove addictive features for the under-18s, it should also be piloting initiatives such as CyberSmarties. But the sad truth is that in a world where it has taken years of tireless campaigning to have sex and relationships education made compulsory in all English schools, despite the numbers of children now viewing porn online, we’re much more likely to see hand-wringing than real action.

Read the full article Yes, we can teach our children about technology, but let’s just ban phones in school

Should school be mobile free zones? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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