Mobile phones. Must-have for their first day?

This blogpost has been sitting in my drafts for a while. But when I saw this image circulating the internet this weekend I felt incensed to throw in my tuppence worth.

You see Tesco, I’m a teacher. And a parent. And I’d rather your marketing focused on things which really do support learning. Because actually, mobile phones are anything but ‘must-have’ if we hope to produce successful learners.

There’s lots of evidence to suggest that a mobile phone will not be helpful for a learner’s first day at school. This research clearly articulates why mobile phones need not be on our ‘back to school’ shopping list.

If you had told me 10 years ago, that I would have been writing this particular blogpost, I would have not believed you. You see, 9 years ago I was the biggest advocate of mobile phones in schools. Fast forward a decade, and this leopard has most definitely changed her spots. Now, I’d rather see a complete ban on mobile phones in classrooms such is my disdain for their distraction.

There are a number of reasons for this u-turn. First hand experience. Academic research. Professional reading. And most significantly a genuine concern for our young people.

Innerdrive Blogpost on mobile phones.

I’m worried about the effects of increased screen time for young people. Constant use of digital devices seriously affects their ability to concentrate. Despite good intentions, it’s too tempting just to sneak a peek at the screen to check notifications. And before you know it, the rabbit hole of social media has swallowed another 14 year old for the 100th time that day, jumping from one video to another message, to email to Instagram to Snap chat. A constant loop of comparison via pings, vibrations and light. It affects concentration. It affects confidence. It affects mental health. It causes stress and anxiety. And these all contribute to poor sleep, poor well-being and poor mindset. Not a healthy combination if we want our young people to thrive.

I’m worried about the use of mobile phones in schools, and the implications this has for learning, when notifications, messages and snap chat are all fighting for our learners’ attention. What chance do they have to experience the joy of learning whilst being bombarded with reminders and communication via their mobile adding a whole other layer of cognitive load to their struggle. Studies show use of mobile phones reduces memory. Not to mention the research into the effects of constant multitasking and ‘app-hopping.’ What chance do we have for focussed, concentrated learning in our classrooms when fighting for attention is a shiny, phone distracting thinking and processing?

But ‘pupils shouldn’t have their phones out in class,’ I hear you cry Tesco. And you are right. Most schools wouldn’t tolerate mobile phones in classrooms. But…

Have YOU tried spending an hour without looking at YOUR phone?? It’s nigh on impossible for adults, never mind young, impressionable teenagers who are keen to fit in and often don’t see the direct benefits of what they are doing there and then in the classroom. Despite the rules, pupils can’t help themselves. A sneak peek there, a quick check in between tasks. Constant battles for attention. And that’s only the students who are keen to learn. Many others don’t have the same self control.

I wonder how many altercations between pupils and teachers stem from mobile phone usage in the classroom? It’s a huge source of friction between young people and teachers, and I’d hazard a guess that the proportion of time given to asking pupils politely to ‘put phones away’ or ‘pop that back into your bag please’ equates to a significant amount of time which could have been better spent on learning and teaching. Not to mention how often situations escalate significantly, when in fact could have been avoided all together had mobile phones not been on their person.

I’m worried about the impact mobile phones have on mental health and well-being, belonging and social interaction. Social media is the root of so many bullying and friendship issues for young people. Often these are drawn into schools as a result of incidences at weekends or in the evening, and already take up huge amounts of energy for pastoral staff. But these should not be the focus of our Monday – Friday in classrooms. Pupils should be protected from that in order to have the best chance at learning. So it worries me that our society now see mobile phones as ‘essential’ prerequisite for the school bag. I personally would much rather focus on creating meaningful face to face learning experiences in school.

And for those arguing the technological benefits of mobile devices, have a read at Daisy Christodoulou’s work if you haven’t already. There might also be parents/carers advocating the need to communicate with young people during school day. This could still happen. Either by a simple message picked up at the end of the day, or in emergencies through the school office, just like was the norm all those years before mobile phones. The issue in school, is that mobile phones, are so much more than ‘phones.’ Cameras, apps, social media, shopping, messaging – and it’s this combination of audio visual assault which distracts from the core purpose of school.

This blog doesn’t have any answers but it does set out to suggest the impact which mobile devices may have on learning. It aims to make parents, teachers and leaders consider how we help students to navigate the constant bombardment of marketing and media which suggest we need mobile phones at school. It may sound extremist to suggest schools should ‘ban all mobile phones’ but like every other educational debate headline we need to understand the context. This is not a draconian, power hungry rule designed to make young people hate school. It actually sets out to protect them – conserving their learning and well-being as well as providing equity of experience. It’s teaching them that in certain environments, especially those required for effective learning, we need focus, attention and thinking.

We need to give our students the best chance at education. Mobile phones in the classroom don’t support that.

One thought on “Mobile phones. Must-have for their first day?

  1. Agree wholeheartedly. I am a principal Teacher of Science & Technology and try very hard to ensure staff in the faculty do not permit pupil class time access to mobile phones. It can be difficult however when we have limited IT resources in school. Often staff allow pupils to use their phones to conduct research and record data in science classes because we simply do not have enough pcs available. This is when the battles to keep pupils focussed begin!


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