Byline: Christopher Bantick
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. Yes, in class.
To those NSW principals who are pushing back against blanket bans on mobile phones I say: I'm with you.
The excuses schools provide to ban phones are inadequate. The standard response is that mobiles are a distraction. Why? If the students are occupied and busy, why would they need to be looking at their mobiles? Is it not the teacher's responsibility to manage this?
I have asked students to use their mobile phones in class and I would do so again. A mobile can find the right word or solve a grammar problem in a few clicks. Anyone under 30 is super-fast at texting; is it not sensible to have instant answers in a class that are on point and of the moment? Googling is not bad karma.
Schools might ban mobiles, but do parents agree? If a parent wants to get a message to their child, what is wrong with sending a text? And what about emergencies?
Schools that ban mobile phones are hiding behind the misuse of the devices. Sexting and cyber-bullying are grave issues but they are not exclusively school issues. They are a 24/7 challenge. As an argument for banning phones, it is naive and disingenuous. Why not ban laptops, PCs and tablets?
A school in Melbourne, Loreto Mandeville Hall, has shown prudent maturity in recognising mobiles have a place in the lives of young people at school and at home.
In a constructive attempt to show reasonable balance it has not banned phones but, recognising that some year 9 and year 10 students may be experiencing inadequate sleep due to misuse of their electronic devices, they have brought in a sleep expert to approach what may be an issue for some students.
The school is running a trial of a phone-free approach between 8am and 3pm, when students are encouraged to not check their phones. It is not mandated. "We do not want to be perceived as the phone police," said school principal Susan Stephens. "We are simply trying to inspire better habits."
It shows enviable regard for its students by allowing them to "self-manage" their phone use. This approach sensibly acknowledges the place of mobile phones in contemporary society and their power as a communication tool.
Christopher Bantick is a writer and former secondary English teacher.