Victoria bans phones in all state schools. Pushes Cyberbullying problem to parents, the least prepared to deal with it.

Today the Labor state Government of Victoria announced a new policy that bans mobile phones in schools. From Term 1, 2020 (just 6 months from now), no child attending a public school (that’s K-12) will be allowed to have a mobile phone in an effort to reduce distraction and combat bullying.

Here’s the problem..

Mobile phones are a reality in our world and our education system is supposed to be preparing our kids to enter that world and be productive members of society.

While phones absolutely present challenges for teachers in the classroom, there are certainly techniques for managing that. Some teachers get students to store them at the front of the class until needed, suspend use for repeating offenders distracting class etc. Banning just takes a sledgehammer to the problem when you need a scalpel and forgets about the positive side that connected devices deliver.

Some of the most innovative teachers in Australia are leveraging technology (mobiles/tablets etc) to teach our students about programming. These skills are the ones most likely to be of use in the jobs of the future, so a blanket ban seems incredibly dangerous the future of our kids.

The only exceptions to the ban will be where students use phones to monitor health conditions, or where teachers instruct students to bring their phone for a particular classroom activity. At all other times phones must be in lockers.

While that seems like an adequate carveout, you have to remember, if the culture at school becomes ‘phones are bad’ teachers are going to feel pressure to do this less often than they do now and students equally to feel that having a phone is a bad, so when it’s needed, unlikely to have one charged and ready to go as a learning tool.

No phones could mean that Mobile App Development, Robotics, Web design could all suffer without the ability to test on real hardware. It also puts public educated students at a serious disadvantage to privately educated students.

Part of the motivation for the ban reportedly comes from Teachers and parents frequently raising concerns about the use of mobile phones during school hours as a cause of constant distraction in classrooms. I don’t doubt this happens, but I’d like us to understand the cause a little more before implementing a ban.

Students learn at different rates, therefore will complete tasks at different times. If a student wants to learn more about a topic after finishing their work and their phone is the only connected device they have, I believe they should be able to use it, providing they’re not distracting other students.

The more awkward conversation to have is about the wide variety of teacher quality in our schools. If a student isn’t interested in the content, it could be the teacher, delivering it for the 400th time, where any passion left long ago. A teacher’s job is to find an angle, a case study, a real-life relevance for those kids that help them be interested and to understand the concept. We’re in 2019 and in a world of YouTube and Instagram, you better be engaging while you do it.

It’s easy to point to the phone as the problem, what if the content is the problem and the distraction is a symptom? Adjusting the teacher is harder, so we just blame the technology I guess.

Cyber bullying, like regularly bullying, is horrendous. We all wish it didn’t happen, but it does and the sad reality is it will continue. By imagining the devices are the problem, forgets that many of these services used as carriages for online bullying are also available on the desktop. That means any computer or any tablet (iPads included) in the school, would also have to be banned to have a serious effect.

Shutting it down at school doesn’t stop the problem, rather pushes it outside of school ours which really looks like the School is washing their hands of the problem.

Instead, teachers should be educating our students about being resilient, to devalue the words of people they don’t know or care about, about how to building self-esteem and self-worth from the things they do, not what other think or say. We need to ensure our students know where to go to get help should things get out of hand.

It’s not easy, it’s not a nice topic, but we need to get our kids ready for reality, the internet can be an ugly place. Having the skills to deal with that would serve them well for life.

Phones are being used as the scapegoat here and by closing down phones at school, means we push the problem on to parents, who are even less prepared to deal with this.

Cybersafety and Cyberbullying needs to be addressed, I just wish the Victorian Government would invest in more education around these topics and in teacher skills, instead of taking the easy way out, banning it.

Here’s the full press release from the Victorian Government below.

Mobile phones will be banned for all students at Victorian state primary and secondary schools from Term 1 2020, to help reduce distraction, tackle cyber bullying and improve learning outcomes for students.

Minister for Education James Merlino today announced the reform at McKinnon Secondary College, which has seen the benefits of its mobile phone ban on student learning and social behaviour. Teachers at the school have reported that students are more focused during class and communicating more in the school yard.

According to the latest research from Headspace, around 53 per cent of young Australians have experienced cyberbullying.

Teachers and parents also frequently raise concerns about the use of mobile phones during school hours as a cause of constant distraction in classrooms. Rolling out a state-wide policy will provide consistency and certainty for parents, students and school communities.

Students will be required to switch off their phones and store them securely in lockers from the start of the school day until the final bell. When emergencies occur, parents or guardians can reach their child by calling the school.

The only exceptions to the ban will be where students use phones to monitor health conditions, or where teachers instruct students to bring their phone for a particular classroom activity. At all other times phones must be in lockers.

In Term 3 2019, the Department of Education and Training will work with principals to develop detailed advice and resources as schools prepare to introduce this policy next year. A review will be conducted at the end of 2020.

To address mental health and bullying, the Labor Government has invested $51.2 million so every government secondary school campus will have a qualified mental health practitioner within the school, as well as $65.5 million in student health and wellbeing, which includes anti-bullying and positive behaviour support.

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Jason Cartwright
Jason Cartwright
Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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