Should Schools Ban Mobile Phones?

04 February 2020

Mobile phones have changed the way we communicate, but people disagree on whether the devices are useful tools for education.

Students can be easily distracted by their phones during class.

Are they listening to the teacher or texting their friends? Are they taking a picture of a quiz to cheat? Maybe they are playing a game, or watching a video, instead of paying attention.

School officials, teachers and parents all are trying to find out the best way to supervise students' use of mobile or cellphones.

FILE - Some social media apps on a smartphone.
FILE - Some social media apps on a smartphone.

In the Canadian province of Ontario, officials are restricting phone use during teaching time. However, there are exceptions for classroom activities, health and other emergencies.

France passed a law in 2018 banning the use of cellphones in schools for students up to age 15, the age when they go to high school.

Last July, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new law. It says state public and charter schools can ban students from using smartphones in class and at school. It does not, however, say schools are required to completely ban the devices.

The law asks school districts, charter schools and education offices to develop cellphone policies to prevent, or limit students' use of the devices at school. There are exceptions, which include emergencies or issues related to health and well-being.

One high school, in California's Silicon Valley area, had a serious problem with students and their cellphones.

Joanne Sablich, a French teacher, said students using their phones in class had been a real problem. They were "checking their phones and texting-- going on social media," she said, and she would have to take the phone "over and over and over."

The schools vice principal, Adam Gelb, said some students were spending as much as 11 or 12 hours a day on their phones.

So, the administration turned to technology for answers. San Mateo High School now locks up cellphones during the day in a special container. Each student must put their phone away in a small bag with a magnetic lock. It is called a Yondr Pouch.

At the end of the day, students unlock the bag with another device. The bag is being used in schools in both the United States and Europe. The cost for the equipment is around $20,000 a year for a school, or $12 for each student.

Teacher Joanne Sablich is happy. She sees a difference in students' behavior. She said they are "very engaged this year," instead of just looking at their phones.

Other schools are choosing simpler answers to the problem—they ban cellphones in classrooms. One of these schools is Forest Hills school district, near Grand Rapids, Michigan. School officials decided this school year to ban cellphones throughout the day, including at lunch.

Dan Behm is the superintendent of the district. He told the publication Education Week the reason why district officials put the ban in place. They "wanted to provide a clean break for students and not have the frenetic energy that can happen if kids start texting each other or social-media posts start going," Behm said.

They tried the ban last year as a test. Behm said they found that students said they were less anxious when they were not so attached to their devices.

Education Week found that more than 30 schools, and in some cases school districts, have put in place some kind of restrictions during the current or last school year. Districts across the country also have their own versions of phone restrictions both formal or informal.

One district choosing not to ban cellphones is Saint Marys Area School District in the state of Pennsylvania. Brian Toth is the superintendent of the small rural district. He told VOA, each teacher can decide whether, and when, to restrict students' cellphone use.

Toth said students have grown up with cellphones, and "it is our responsibility to teach them proper use for tools within the classroom." He added that schools are teaching about cellphones and how to use them with social media and the Internet.

"It is part of changing education for kids," he said. "As long as we teach them to use them responsibly."

The technology is here, Toth said, schools should use it to help students, and not fear it.

I'm Anne Ball.

And I'm Brian Lynn.

Anne Ball wrote this story with information from Education Week and VOA news. Mario Ritter edited it.

Do you think schools should ban cellphones? What do you think of this story? Write to us in the comments section below.


Words in This Story

distract – v. to cause (someone) to stop thinking about or paying attention to someone or something and to think about or pay attention to someone or something else instead

charter school – n. a school that is established by a charter, is run by teachers, parents, etc., and uses tax money but does not have to be run according to the rules of a city or state

district – n. an area or section of a country, city or town established by a government for official government business

frenetic – adj. filled with excitement, activity or confusion; wild or frantic

anxious – adj. afraid or nervous especially about what may happen: feeling anxiety

proper – adj. correct according to social or moral rules