It's smarter to take smartphones out of the classroom

It's smarter to take smartphones out of the classroom

by Michelle Ballantyne
article from Wednesday 20, September, 2017

MORE AND MORE young people are inhabiting a ‘smartphone society’ of Instagram filters and Facebook shares, Twitter likes and Snapchat streaks. This is a place alien to many parents, myself included.

Undoubtedly, smartphones present numerous advantages accessible at a young person’s fingertips: connecting with friends; sharing wonderful memories; voicing opinions and showcasing talents on a global stage.

But, in allowing our children to engage with the smartphone society, it is crucial that we strike the right balance, especially when it comes to their education.

Put yourself in the position of an impressionable young person with a world of information and interaction at your touch. Could you let go?

Smartphones are a technological marvel, but they are also distractive and, worse, potentially destructive to educational attainment.

The Scottish Conservatives believe that a ban on smartphones in our primary schools, and empowering teachers in secondary schools to impose restrictions on use, could go a long way to striking that all-important balance for our young people.

A robust body of academic research, published by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, found that a ban on mobile phones in schools across four English cities improved students’ academic performance in exams on average by over 6 per cent. This was found to be equivalent to an extra week’s schooling over an academic year. Indeed, in a rigorous alternative model, the ban was found to improve the probability of a student attaining a C or better in five GCSE’s by over 2 per cent. 

These fine margins matter in the competitive context of access to further education: restrictions on mobile phones could be the difference between an A and a B; a pass or a fail; a place at university or no place at all.

Moreover, the research discovered particularly potent effects on the lowest achieving students. Students in the lowest quartile of exam performance improved by 14 per cent post-implementation of the ban, with the best improvements seen by students with special educational needs or with entitlements to free school meals.

The conclusion is clear: restrictions on mobile phones in schools can be an effective and affordable means of closing the attainment gap.

However, the ethos of this policy penetrates further. ‘Social media addiction’ is thought to affect over 5 per cent of young people. By imposing restrictions, we can liberate our young people from the pressures of, and reliance on, social media for seven hours a day. Instead, they will be able to interact with real friends, face-to-face, who they can talk to, laugh with, and learn with – sharing experiences together and valuing them in their own right. Social media likes may give short-term validation, but school friendships and memories will last a lifetime.

Finally, we can deal a real blow to the scourge of cyber-bullying within schools by eliminating immediate access and temptation to share that unflattering photograph, post that hurtful tweet, or send that vitriolic message.

The Scottish Government’s guidance in 2013 was that it was “unreasonable and impractical” to impose a ban on smartphones in schools. However, given the explosion in ownership of such devices among young people today, it’s time for the SNP to look again at their outdated position and, furthermore, to engage fully, and in the spirit of cooperation, with all political parties and stakeholders to show that a true and serious commitment to educational reform underpins their ‘defining mission’ rhetoric.

The Scottish Conservatives have an unwavering commitment to improving performance of our schools and to restoring Scottish education to its rightful place at the pinnacle of global standards. This policy is just one way we are delivering on that commitment.

Michelle Ballantyne MSP is a Scottish Conservative member for South Scotland

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