BACK TO SCHOOL WITH OR WITHOUT MOBILE PHONES

words + photography by: leonie smith

After a review of the non-educational use of mobile devices in schools, the NSW Government has decided to ban the use of mobile phones in primary schools by students. CyberSafety Lady Leonie Smith breaks down the new regulations and its possible effects.

The review found that mobile devices in schools created issues around cyber bullying, adult content and the taking of photos and video without permission. Phones are an increasing distraction during class, difficult for teachers to police, and are possibly the cause of less positive student interaction and physical activity.

All schools have a duty of care to ensure students are free from harassment or exposure to illegal content on school grounds. As mobile phones do not require the use of the filtered school Wi-Fi, sites and apps usually blocked can be accessed via 4G phones.

Issues around phone video can be intrusive and harmful. On social media apps like TikTok and Instagram, it is common to see videos posted from inside school grounds. Videos often feature other students and even teachers, apparently unaware they are being filmed for a video prank. 

However, banning mobile phones in schools is not a digital silver bullet. Many of the same issues exist via school computers and tablets. Many schools report that keeping students on task when they have access to any digital device is becoming increasingly difficult. Some schools have device management software to help teachers supervise student’s screens and in some schools, teachers will sit behind the class so they can observe what the students are doing on their screens. 

What can parents do?
This new policy will be rolled out over 2019. Parents will be notified about their child’s school mobile phone policy when the school has decided how they will comply with the new rules. Decisions about where phones are to be kept during the day, whether students can use the phone on the bus, on school grounds, or on excursions, must be made.

Safe responsible use
A student’s phone should be safe and secure: a non-internet connected phone is preferred, with calls and SMS only. The phone should not have unsuitable apps installed. Parental control settings should be enabled to block features and adult content that may cause harm. 

It is vital that parents talk with their children about the safe and responsible use of mobile devices, and set rules on their use. For example, asking permission before installing apps and using the camera respectfully. The phone should not be used for pranking others by recording video or sound or sending prank calls or messages. Additionally, the phone should only be used at set times and locations. 

Supporting school policy
Schools have also reported issues with parents communicating with their children during school hours via phone or digital watch. This can cause the child distress if they feel the need to reply to their parent immediately, or this can exacerbate an issue at school that requires teacher rather than parent involvement. Parents should leave urgent messages with the school’s office reception.

The growth of mobile technology has put a computer in every pocket. The connection and benefits of the internet and technology are clear. But managing the technology in schools is an ongoing issue that has accelerated so fast that up until now educators haven’t had time to form cohesive strategies. Dealing with digital devices in educational environments will be an ever-changing landscape. No doubt more devices will be added to the ban list as time goes on.

Leonie Smith - The Cyber Safety Lady