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Starting this year, students at San Mateo High School south of San Francisco will be part of a pilot program looking to find an answer to a question that has vexed educators for years: Does it make sense to ban cellphone use at school?
With 1,700 students, San Mateo High is reportedly the largest public school in America to go phone free. Schools, districts and governments across the country and around the world have considered or enacted their own phone bans recently.
A phone ban in Ontario, Canada, is set to go into effect next month. And in June, legislators in California passed a law allowing the state’s school districts to implement their own phone prohibitions.
Why there’s debate:
Smartphones are considered by many educators to be a major impediment to learning and a scourge on the classroom environment. Many argue that they are constant distraction and a barrier to in-person communication, putting teachers in the position of having to interrupt instruction to get students back on task.
There is also some scientific research suggesting smartphones may fundamentally undermine a child's ability to learn or focus on one subject for an extended period of time.
Others say the bans are a mistake. Since phones are everywhere, goes the logic, schools would be better off teaching kids to utilize the technology as a learning tool. There is also evidence that bans are difficult if not impossible to enforce.
There are also safety concerns, like children not having access to phones during an emergency. Japan's education ministry said it is reconsidering its nationwide ban on phones in junior high and elementary schools in response to a strong earthquake that struck Osaka last year.
Smartphones are still a relatively new technology, so the pros and cons of having them in schools are still being evaluated. The broad bans taking place in France, Australia and other countries should provide more evidence of whether keeping phones out of schools is a good strategy.
Phones are a major impediment to learning.
“Taking cellphones out of the classroom is a no-brainer. ...The ability to be free of distraction and concentrate on things is increasingly valuable, so it’s a good general function of our schools to be a place where our students get trained to [keep] their concentration on one thing at a time,” — Georgetown University professor Calvin Newport, to NBC News
Phones are too distracting to be allowed in schools.
“It doesn’t take a scientist to tell you that cell phones can be distracting, but if you want confirmation from a scientist, it’s not hard to find. Study after study shows that the powerful computers we keep in our pockets can be distracting for even the most disciplined of adults — not to mention students.” — Abigail Hess, CNBC
There’s no way to effectively enforce phone bans.
“Whenever adults ban something, kids find a way around the rule.” — Katrina Schwartz, KQED
Schools should teach children to use their phones responsibly.
“The reality is that in university, and more importantly, the workplace, your professors and bosses don’t tell you to put your phone away. They just expect you to meet your deadlines — and if you’re distracted by dog videos on your phone, that’s your problem.” — Sherina Harris, Vice
Kids need to learn how to get things done without easy access to technology.
“Learning to get along without digital media, to depend directly on themselves and each other without electronic distraction several uninterrupted hours a day, could be the most important training we can give our young people before sending them into an uncharted and potentially uncontrollable technological future.” — Steve Koppman, Mercury News
Phone bans discriminate against kids with nontraditional learning styles.
“What I’m particularly opposed to are blanket device bans that fail to recognize that different humans learn in different ways at different times.” — Education and technology expert Jesse Stommel
The bans represent a failure by schools to adapt to modern student needs.
“Schools that take the draconian decision to ban mobile phones are really admitting failure. A failure of management, a failure of understanding contemporary communication and a failure to recognise the significant benefits of mobile phones in class.” — Christopher Bantick, Sydney Morning Herald
A student argues in favor of teaching teenagers to properly manage their screen time.
"Banning technology from students will also seriously limit our ability to learn digital self-control. Every minute of our school day is already dictated to us by adults, making time management a difficult skill to learn. If phones are not only banned in class but also in our recess and lunch times, we are not learning how to use our phones in moderation, and will find it even harder to learn to do so once we graduate and are given free rein." — Hannah Bachelard, The Age
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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty images