Mobile phones will be banned in all Victorian state primary and secondary schools from 2020, in a bid to tackle cyberbullying and reduce distraction in the classroom.
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.
“This will remove a major distraction from our classrooms, so that teachers can teach, and students can learn in a more focused, positive and supported environment,” said Victorian Minister for Education James Merlino.
“Half of all young people have experienced cyberbullying. By banning mobiles we can stop it at the school gate.”
According to Minister Merlino, rolling out a state-wide policy will provide consistency and certainty for parents, students and school communities.
He announced these tough new rules on 26 June at McKinnon Secondary College, which has already placed a ban on mobile phones. Teachers at the school have reported more focused students during class and greater communication among students in the school yard.
“Our students are more focussed learners in the classroom without this distraction and we have observed improved social connections, relationships and interactions in the school during lunchtime,” said Principal of McKinnon Secondary School, Pitsa Binnion.
According to the latest research from Headspace, around 53 per cent of young Australians have experienced cyberbullying.
Psychologist, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, also welcomed the new mobile phone ban. “All schools have a legal obligation to provide a safe environment in which to learn. This significant policy initiative is designed to ensure the well-being of young people while at school, free of distraction and potentially cyberbullying,” he said.
But not all have shared the same level of enthusiasm. Professor Neil Selwyn from the Faculty of Education at Monash University said an overall ban on mobile phones would be a shame. “There are many instances where having smartphones in class can be educationally beneficial,” he said. “Ideally, we should be leaving this down to individual teachers and schools to solve for themselves. It is a shame to reduce the opportunities for appropriate use of phones in class.
“If nothing else, on a practical note, we can expect students to be bringing their mobiles into class regardless of any ban. The realities of policing this ban at the beginning of each lesson could be more trouble than it is worth.”
Online safety group, Family Zone Cyber Safety, also voiced its concerns over the ban. “Our research shows that phone bans are often resisted and easily ignored by parents and students. And we know that many teachers, schools and experts worry about robbing children of important learning opportunities,” said Tim Levy, Managing Director of Family Zone.
“It is naïve to think that banning mobile phones will be the panacea to issues relating to personal device use at school. The answer is to provide parents, teachers and schools with the policy choices and tools they need to manage the risks and take advantage of the opportunities of mobility,” he added.
The Victorian Department of Education and Training will work with principals in Term 3 2019 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.