Teachers divided over smartphone use in schools

Following the decision by French Schools to ban mobile phones from classrooms beyond September 2018, we thought we'd put the question to UK teachers

Following the decision by French Schools to ban mobile phones from classrooms beyond September 2018, we thought we’d put the question to UK teachers to find out if they think we should follow suit. The results have shown that 55% of teachers agree with the French decision to ban the use of smartphones in the classroom. However, with only 10% in the difference of opinion, it shows that UK teachers are divided on the use of mobile phones in classrooms. So, what factors could be driving the divided opinion? 

1.     Travelling

The reason most children tend to have mobile phones is because parents want to have a point of contact for when they aren’t together. This is something that the French government will seriously need to consider before the ban comes into force. Parents being able to be in contact with their children is precisely the reason why New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio, lifted a decade-long ban in 2015, he believed that parents should be able to call or text their children when necessary. One teacher we spoke to suggested a way around this, particularly concerning primary schoolchildren:

“In my previous school, Year 6 pupils did often use to travel home alone and, as a consequence many brought phones to school. However, our strict rule was that they were to be signed into the office in the morning, not accessed at all throughout the school day and then collected at home time.” 

2.     Wellbeing

Access to screen time remains a big concern among parents, it’s natural that because of this, some schools are wary of introducing another piece of technology. However, using personal mobile devices only needs to form a small part of the day, or even feature one day a week. What’s most important is that personal devices are being used to enhance learning and are relevant, rather than being used for the sake of having additional tech in the classroom. 

3.     Budgets

School budgets are increasingly strained and because of this headteachers are having to make difficult decisions about where best to allocate funds. The ‘State of Technology in Education Report’ which surveys 1,600 educators, found that 72% of participants believed budgetary pressures would impact student education most in 2018 and beyond. With this in mind, it makes more financial sense for some schools to have a BYOD strategy in place rather than purchasing a full set of mobile devices for each class. 

4.     Cyber security

This remains a newsworthy topic and can put schools off encouraging children to bring in their own technology. However, as long as a policy is in place that ensures students use their devices on the school network only, schools should feel confident that they are reducing risk. By using personal devices in schools it actually provides teachers with the perfect opportunity to further educate children on the importance of online safety and encourages collaborative discussions on how they can stay safe. In fact, one school commented: “Children should be educated to use them in the right ways instead of banning them.” While another added: “For older pupils in this day and age they need to be aware of the dangers of social media and phones and I think it is important that we make this part of our curriculum.” 

5.     Primary vs. Secondary

Whether primary schoolchildren should be encouraged to use personal devices vs. secondary schoolchildren is also highly debated. Deciding if it’s ethical that primary schoolchildren should have smartphones is a discussion that often crops up, but in the modern world, the reality is some primary-aged children do have mobiles. In this instance, I think it’s important that children (both primary and secondary) are educated on using tech on a personal level, outside of the classroom and what it’s expected to be used for inside the classroom e.g. as an extension of a set task or as an opportunity to work collaboratively in a more interactive way with their peers. When asked, a school commented: “From a certain age upwards it should be very much a part of what we do.”  Another added: “I can see no point in permitting primary aged children to have access to mobile phone technology during the school day at all.” Proving that it’s a topic that continues to create discussion, with professionals even having a difference of opinion. 

The debate for and against mobile phone use in the classroom is likely to be ongoing, however, with a clear strategy in place regarding the use of personal technology, schools and parents can be confident on the intended use and expectations when using mobiles in the classroom. We’re continuing to see education technology evolve at an extraordinary pace, so to have a blanket ban on the use of one piece of kit at this stage could be self-limiting further down the line.