* This interview was published in Sydney Morning Herald on 23rd September 2018
Mobile phones are supposed to remain in school bags during classes at Cherrybrook Technology High School.
But Isabella Ormsby says that does not deter her fellow students from checking their phones for messages and calls, watching or making videos.
“Most of the time the teacher will tell you to put it in your bag or sometimes they’ll take your phone off you,” she says.
Ormsby, 14, says her classes were disrupted by mobile phones “probably about once a day”.
Concerns about the presence of smartphones in classrooms prompted the NSW government to launch a review into the risks and benefits of phones in the state’s schools.
The review, led by child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, will examine “whether a restriction or other limits should be placed on smartphone use for children in primary schools or children in certain age brackets”.
NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes says the review would also focus on best practice surrounding cyberbullying, sexting and internet safety.
Ormsby previously attended Mount St Benedict College in Pennant Hills, which has a policy stating that mobile phones can only be used to contact parents out of school hours.
“I think you should be able to have your phone but maybe put away in class and just don’t use it in class unless the teacher wants you to use it for learning purposes,” she says.
France has banned smartphones at schools for students younger than 15.
However, educators and academics are divided on whether phones should be banned in NSW classrooms, with schools adopting different policies on their use during school hours.
Finnish education expert Dr Pasi Sahlberg believes smartphone-related distraction is one of the main reasons why Australia and similar countries had fallen in Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. However, Sahlberg says a complete ban at high school level would be difficult.
Elizabeth Stone, the principal of Queenwood School for Girls in Mosman, says the school asks parents of K-6 students to give them basic mobile phones without internet access.
“For older students, mobiles must be invisible and inaudible during the school day,” she says. “Students can keep their phones with them, but we expect them to talk to their friends, not text them, and we will swoop and confiscate them if they come out at break.”
Stone says Queenwood used mobile phones in limited ways, but she questions whether they are essential for learning.
“Of course they are distracting and addictive,” she says. “Adults struggle to keep them within limits, let alone children.
“I’ve worked in schools without restrictions and kids will literally sit at the same table and text each other, or they go off to a corner and watch YouTube at lunchtime. That’s not what our school is about.”
A similarly strict policy is enforced at St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney, according to the deputy head Brad Swibel. “Students are not allowed to use mobile phones during school hours.”
If caught with a phone in their hands, a student is required to hand it in until the end of the school day.
Swibel says computers and other devices use the school’s network, which has firewalls to prevent students accessing games, social media and inappropriate sites. This could be circumvented if students could use their smartphones.
He also says smartphones are addictive, distracting and raised privacy concerns.
But Swibel says: “We don’t want to touch their phones for a number of reasons because they are highly expensive. We don’t want to lose them.”
Mobile phones must remain switched off and in a student’s school bag at Kamaroi Rudolf Steiner School in Belrose.
The school’s principal Olga Blasch says the school accepted that parents gave their children mobile phones because of “an ever-increasing concern about children travelling alone on public transport or commuting long distances to school”.
“This will be the only reason permitted for a child having a mobile phone at school,” she says.
Blasch says the school did not use mobile phones as learning tools.
She says mobile phones and other electronic devices can create a range of hazards such as bullying when brought to school or can be easily lost, stolen or damaged.
“There is also an increasing trend of high school students who use their mobile phones at school to publicly review their school/s without the knowledge of their parents or an understanding of future consequences for their actions,” she says.
Cranbrook School in Bellevue Hill has a less strict attitude to mobile phones for its senior students.
Headmaster Nicholas Sampson says the school seeks to teach its students age-appropriate messages on how to be responsible digital citizens, including guidance on how to stay safe online.
“All students are permitted to bring a mobile phone to school: however, Junior School students and students in Years 7 to 9 are not permitted to have this phone turned on during school hours and must keep it secured in their bag or locker,” he says.
“Students in Years 10 to 12 may use phones during recess and lunch breaks for communication purposes only.”