Should there be a blanket ban on smartphones in schools?


    Should there be a blanket ban on smartphones in schools?

    Syllabus: GS2/ Government Policies & Interventions

    In Context

    • Recently, UNESCO recommended a universal ban on the usage of smartphones in schools.

    Mobile & smartPhone users in India 

    • India has 1.2 billion mobile phone users and over 600 million smartphone users. That figure is expected to cross a billion by 2026, according to a Deloitte study, indicating that a future world will be dependent on these small devices. 
    • However, one place where smartphone usage has become controversial is the classroom. 

    Usage of smartphones in schools

    • UNESCO’s ban:UNESCO recommended a universal ban on the usage of smartphones in schools, saying that it was needed to tackle classroom disruption, improve learning, and help protect children from cyberbullying. 
    • Delhi NCR’s advisory: In a recent advisory titled “Restrictions on the use of mobile phones in school premises”, the Directorate of Education, Private School Branch, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi, has highlighted the need for all stakeholders connected with school education such as students, parents, teachers and heads of schools “to arrive at a consensus on the minimum use of mobile phones in the school environment so that a more meaningful learning atmosphere could be maintained in the classroom”. 

    Arguments against using smartphones by students 

    • Engagement on social media: Children studying in schools are getting too much engaged in social media, playing games leading to complete decline in their focus on academic tasks. 
    • UNESCO’s rationale: UNESCO has clearly warned against an uncritical rush towards embracing digital products in educational settings. 
      • There is little evidence of digital technology’s added value in education. But there is a clear threat also, with the report highlighting that mere proximity to a mobile device was found to distract students. 
      • This is more than sufficient for us to understand that mobile phones should not be allowed in the education system. 
    • Addiction & anxiety issues: Psychologists also advocate that mobile phones are addictive in nature, and can hinder concentration and social skills, and cause an increased number of anxiety and mental illness cases.
      • Students are vulnerable to cyber bullying, comparisons, unrealistic standards, resulting in depression, feelings of inadequacy.
    • Disparities among students: It might raise the disparities among students belonging to various socio-economic backgrounds, because students with access to the latest expensive devices could experience an advantage, while those with limited resources might feel left out or stigmatised. 
      • The presence of mobile phones also increases the risk of theft, and schools may struggle to manage security.
    • Healthy learning: It is argued that we should promote more face to face interaction to maintain academic integrity and to foster a healthy learning atmosphere. 
      • Because in those times when there were no mobile phones in the class, then also learning happened.

    Arguments in favour of using smartphones by students

    • Blanket ban is not an answer: In Finland, Australia, England or other developed nations, smartphones are definitely there. A blanket ban definitely cannot be an answer. 
    • Edtech requirements: Smartphones are everywhere. Children have access to it, and parents are giving it to them. Today’s school children were born with it. 
      • And with the increasing number of edtech products, which are coming into the market today with the world talking about digitalisation, including the government, it is not reasonable to put such bans.
    • Technology centric curriculums: The NEP (National Education Policy) gives a lot of importance to smartphones. Even the state curriculum gives a lot of QR codes [for additional resources].
      • Researchers feel that this is the way to go forward, with AI coming into the big picture.
    • Frisking & additional pressure for school: In our country, if you ban it, children are bringing it discreetly to the classes. Frisking happens inside the classrooms to see whether children are carrying it. So that brings in a lot of pressure on the school administration.

    Global scenario

    • In England, children are allowed to bring in their phones from about Year Four and Year Five, but they will have to deposit their phones.
    • In Finland, from about 12 years of age they are allowed to bring their phones along with them and they are allowed to keep it in their hands even when the classes are run.
    • Earlier, Australia had no restrictions, but post-COVID, looking at the mental well-being and the emotional well-being, at the behaviour problems which have started, they have also brought in some kind of restrictions with regard to usage of smartphones inside the campuses.

    Way ahead

    • Deciding the minimum age: Just like we have an age for the driving license, we have an age to be a voter, similarly, we can actually have an age for this, because our job in schools is to prepare them for life, even to use a smartphone in a better way.
    • Middle path – digital learning spaces: The benefits of technology within the school can be addressed if the schools could advance their digital learning spaces.
      • Those should be open to the children to access, so that any time if they need any important information, there should be a mechanism for the children to access the information.
    • Sensitization: Before we give anything to the children, the adults around the children need to be sensitised.
      • Any decision on this issue must prioritise student wellbeing and align with the institution’s core values.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] Examine the rationale behind recommending a universal ban on the usage of smartphones in schools. What is the global scenario? Suggest the middle path for balancing digital literacy along with implementing such bans.