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To ban or not to ban smartphone use in schools?

Côte d’Ivoire has banned the use of smartphones in school. This is the first African country to have a clear school pupil phone use policy, according to the Unesco 2023 GEM report. Nigeria requires a similar national policy.
pupils with phone
Pupils with phone in class Credit: The Nation
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France banned the use of smartphones in schools in 2018 and in Italy, teachers collect students’ smartphones at the beginning of the day. Finland and the Netherlands plan to introduce the ban in 2024.

Unesco’s 2023 Global Education Monitoring report entitled ‘Technology in education: A tool on whose terms?’ cautions that while technologies in the classroom can enhance students’ learning, their inappropriate or excessive use, as exemplified by smartphones, can also negatively affect their educational experience.

Excessive use of information communication technology (ICT) may have a negative impact on student achievement, according to statistics from large-scale international assessments like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the report stated.

In 14 countries, it was discovered that just being near a mobile device distracted pupils and hindered their ability to learn, although less than 1 in 4 countries worldwide have outlawed smartphone use in classrooms. Unesco urges a global ban on smartphones in classrooms as a result of their findings.

“We need to learn about our past mistakes when using technology in education so that we do not repeat them in the future,” said Manos Antoninis, director of the Report. “We need to teach children to live both with and without technology; to take what they need from the abundance of information, but to ignore what is not necessary; to let technology support, but never supplant human interactions in teaching and learning.”

According to the organisation, education should continue to be centred on human connection rather than relying solely on technology.
In many schools over the past 20 years, paper has given way to screens, and pupils have abandoned the bulky encyclopedias in favour of Wikipedia, which, according to Unesco, had 244 million page views daily in 2021. Millions of students worldwide were compelled to switch to online education as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which hastened the technological revolution in the classroom.

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SDG 4 and Technology

As acknowledged within the framework of the Incheon Declaration, the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) is intricately intertwined with the dynamic interplay of opportunities and challenges that technology presents. The relationship between technology and SDG 4 has gained added significance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fourth SDG, focused on education, prominently features technology in six out of its ten targets. This acknowledgement underscores that technology exerts its influence on education through five distinct dimensions: as an input, a medium of delivery, a skill enhancer, a planning tool, and a catalyst for social and cultural contexts.

However, the role of technology within the educational landscape often evokes vehemently opposing viewpoints. These divergent perspectives are exacerbated by the rapid evolution of technology. The 2023 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, which delves into the nexus of technology and education, scrutinised these ongoing debates.

The report critically examines the educational challenges that can potentially be addressed through the judicious application of technology – challenges related to access, equity, inclusion, quality, technological advancement, and system management. The report acknowledges that while technology may propose a multitude of solutions, some of these solutions may also entail adverse consequences.

Africa and Smartphone Use in Schools

The Economic and Social Research Council of the United Kingdom and the Department for International Development funded a study that included university researchers from the United Kingdom and Africa and covered a variety of topics related to young people’s phone use, including generational relationships, job searches, and health advice. Use in schools has become a major problem, echoing global concerns.

In Africa, mobile phones are now widely used. Simple phones are the most popular among younger people. However, more students are accessing internet-capable smartphones and bringing them to class.

Whether or whether they are permitted, students frequently use phones in class. Despite providing useful access to information, they also come with additional obligations and risks. It happens in class a surprising amount—both students’ and teachers’ phones. There are numerous reports of bullying and harassment occurring over phones as well as access to pornography.

The majority of student phone noise in the classroom in the past came from ring tones when calls were made. Nowadays, checking Facebook or sending messages on WhatsApp have become standard classroom activities for those with smartphones. Some teachers have acknowledged that using phones while in the classroom can be distracting. When a call comes in or they make one, the lesson is interrupted and, as several people told us, “You forget what you are going to deliver.” This happens whether they step outside or accept the phone while in class.

Sixty per cent of enrolled students in Malawi reported having observed their teacher using a phone during class the week before the study. The corresponding figures for Ghana and South Africa were 66 per cent and 88 per cent, respectively.

Need for Clear School Pupil-Teacher Phone Use Policy in Nigeria

Côte d’Ivoire has banned the use of smartphones in school. This is the first African country to have a clear school pupil phone use policy, according to the Unesco 2023 GEM report. Nigeria requires a similar national policy.

Bans are more common in Asia. Both Bangladesh and Singapore ban smartphone use in class, but not in school. France bans smartphone use unless strictly for pedagogical purposes or to support children with disabilities.

Better instructions and policies on what technology is permitted in schools and what is not, as well as on how to use it responsibly, are required from governments. In schools, only technology that clearly supports learning should be permitted.

However, Nigeria has no clear policy on school pupil phone use and this is needed as a matter of urgency aligning to Unesco’s framework we add the following recommendations. An outright ban might cause more harm than good.

Student phone use: It’s critical that schools establish a clear policy on student phone use, tell parents of it, and provide justifications. Students might be required to attach a name tag to their phone and leave it with a staff member using a register before class starts if the school has opted to allow students to carry their mobile phone to school but not use it while in class, for example, due to transport issues. In this scenario, a phone number for urgent communications must be provided to the parents or caregivers.

Additionally, students need to be reminded not to post private information online and to tell a teacher, parent, or caretaker if they come across any information that disturbs them. Parents must be urged to assist their children in adhering to the rules set forth by the school. It will be beneficial to get them to sign an acceptable use policy alongside their kids.

Use of mobile devices by teachers: During instructional hours, teachers’ mobile devices should be turned off and left in a secure location. When professors use their phones when students are not allowed to, they may get resentful. Staff members should not offer students or parents their personal cell phone numbers or use them to contact students. This would support educators in maintaining ethical professional behaviour.

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