The National Party has pledged to prohibit students from using their phones while at school if they win the election. However, the implementation of this policy will ultimately be left to individual schools to decide.
This move aims to align New Zealand with certain Australian states that already enforce similar regulations. Christopher Luxon, the opposition party’s representative, emphasised that the goal is to enhance academic performance by minimising unnecessary disruptions and distractions. The proposal entails a complete ban on phone usage throughout the school day, including breaks between classes, across primary, intermediate, and secondary schools.
According to Luxon, schools will have the flexibility to determine the specific enforcement methods. This might involve students handing in their phones before classes or storing them in lockers or bags. He noted that exceptions would be made for students with health conditions or unique circumstances, such as those who require phones for learning challenges or health needs.
Luxon expressed the intention to optimise students’ valuable class time, as New Zealand has slipped from the top 10 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations in core subjects like math, science, and reading. Concerns have been raised by both schools and parents regarding device usage, and research underscores the advantages of reducing screen time and promoting peer interaction during breaks.
Luxon cited global examples of countries that have embraced phone-free school environments, emphasising that this move is rooted in practicality and common sense, rather than being driven by political or ideological motives. If elected, Luxon would introduce a regulation within the Education and Training Act to enforce the ban, with schools determining appropriate penalties for students who breach the rule.
Luxon also hinted that other devices like Apple Watches might be included in the ban if deemed disruptive to students’ learning. However, the principal of Papatoetoe High School, Vaughan Couillault, expressed a different perspective. He asserted that cell phones are not a problem at his school, as they can be useful tools for learning, such as when students need to record tasks.
Couillault acknowledged that consequences are in place for inappropriate phone use and suggested that more attention should be directed toward other issues, like vaping. The National Party has also proposed a plan for primary and intermediate schools to allocate at least one hour daily to reading, writing, and math instruction.
Luxon’s statements came amid reports of mobile phone bans in Australian states, including Queensland, where all state schools are set to ban mobile phones and smartwatches. However, Education Minister Jan Tinetti believes that a nationwide ban is unnecessary and that decisions regarding phone usage should be left to individual schools.
Luxon’s visit to St Joseph’s School Fairfield in Hamilton further indicated the National Party’s stance on mobile phones in schools. Meanwhile, Ashburton College and Albany Senior High School showcased differing approaches to phone usage, with one enforcing phone-off policies and the other promoting responsible use.
In summary, the National Party’s proposed ban on mobile phones in New Zealand schools, if implemented, would be subject to school-level enforcement and would align the country with similar policies in certain Australian states. The party aims to enhance learning environments by minimising distractions, but opinions on the necessity and effectiveness of such a ban vary among educators and policymakers.