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UNESCO urges global ban of smartphones in schools

This measure is aimed at addressing disruptions in classrooms, enhancing learning environments, and safeguarding children against cyberbullying.
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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has made an appeal to policymakers and governments worldwide to prohibit the usage of smartphones within educational settings. This measure is aimed at addressing disruptions in classrooms, enhancing learning environments, and safeguarding children against cyberbullying.

According to Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of UNESCO, as stated in the recently published 2023 Global Education Monitoring report, the organisation advocates for the integration of technology in classrooms only when it contributes to positive learning outcomes. This includes the appropriate utilisation of smartphones.

Azoulay emphasised the potential of the digital revolution while also stressing the importance of responsible usage in education. She remarked, “The benefits of technology must be harnessed to enrich learning experiences and promote the well-being of both students and educators, without causing harm. Prioritising the needs of learners and supporting teachers is essential, as online connections cannot replace human interaction.”

UNESCO pointed to evidence demonstrating that excessive smartphone usage is linked to decreased academic performance and has an adverse impact on children’s emotional stability due to extended screen time.

The 2023 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) findings indicate that certain technological tools can contribute to learning in specific contexts. However, caution must be exercised to prevent overuse or improper application of technology.

The organisation cautioned policymakers and stakeholders against indiscriminate promotion of digital technology in schools, cautioning that its positive influence on learning outcomes and efficiency may be overstated.

UNESCO stated, “Not all changes signify progress. Just because something is feasible does not necessarily mean it should be implemented.”

A recent report from UNESCO revealed that even the presence of a mobile phone with notifications can lead to student distraction and a loss of focus on tasks. Studies indicate that it can take up to 20 minutes for students to regain concentration after a distraction.

Countries like Belgium, Spain, and the United Kingdom witnessed improved learning outcomes after implementing bans on smartphones in schools, particularly benefiting underperforming students.

Rachel Harper, the principal of St. Patrick’s Primary School in Ireland, which enforced a ban on smartphone usage, underscored concerns related to data privacy, safety, and well-being. Harper emphasized that discussions about technology usage, especially among young students, must consider these factors.

Elizabeth Ohaka, an early childhood education specialist, acknowledged the necessity for children to familiarize themselves with technology but emphasized the importance of supervision. Ohaka highlighted the need for purposeful, intentional, and supervised use of gadgets by children with short attention spans.

Presently, only 16 percent of countries have explicit data privacy laws for education. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 89 percent of 163 educational technology products were recommended for children, with 39 out of 42 governments offering online education potentially infringing upon children’s rights.

The 2023 GEM report, titled ‘Technology in Education: A tool on whose terms?’, emphasises the prioritisation of learners’ needs in decisions about technology integration. It advocates for appropriate, equitable, scalable, and sustainable technology usage while ensuring students understand both the risks and opportunities associated with technology.

However, countries are urged to establish clearer guidelines on permissible technology usage in schools and promote responsible practices. GEM concluded, “Only technology that actively supports learning objectives should be permitted within educational institutions.”

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