It was only a matter of time. One country has decided to put a stop to the infiltration of mobile phones into the school environment. France has taken what many would consider to be an extreme move by moving to impose a blanket ban on phones in schools before the next academic year starts in September.
France’s children will be obliged to do without their mobile devices at school under a bill the education minister called a “detox measure” to combat classroom distraction and bullying.
The move will be watched closely by many other countries concerned by “phone addiction” amongst children. An estimated more than 90% of children aged 12 years or older have a mobile phone in France and getting them to part with their beloved devices for any more than 10 minutes will surely be a challenge and the consequences potentially dire in some extreme cases.
This also brings into question how we got to this stage, allowing kids to bring their phones to school in the first place. Sure, parents will argue that it allows them to keep in contact with their children, even to track where they are in some cases, but is it necessary to have them on all day?
How can children possibly concentrate when they are bombarded by a constant stream of social media messaging? Some will argue that the future of education will be intertwined to accessing internet for answers to everything. Who will realistically need an education other than being able to read and type?
French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told LCI news TV channel, “You can’t find your way in a world of technology if you can’t read, write, count, respect others and work in a team,” but one could even question the need for the last three.
Supporters of the bill say smartphone usage among school children has encouraged cyber-bullying, made access to pornography easier and hampered the ability of youngsters to interact socially. Phone theft, racketeering and obsession with fashion brands were other negatives justifying an attempt to strike a balance in children’s lives, the minister said.
On a more serious note, a recent UK newspaper article and study reported that “addiction of children to their mobile phones could threaten the very fabric of society.” Many teenagers, it said, are fanatical about being always available and are extremely uneasy if unable to contact their friends countless times each day.
Another article stated that a top addiction therapist had warned, “giving your child a smartphone is like ‘giving them a gram of cocaine’.”
And herein lies the first big issue – what will be put in place to help these so-called “addicts” when their phone fix is not available to them during school hours? Will the French government provide counsellors or programs to help wean them off? Or will teachers bear the full brunt of kids going ‘cold turkey’?
Teachers will also be barred from bringing their phones to school and some feel this may be a security risk (presumably should they need to call for help because addicted students have gone feral).
The French move may be sensible in concept, but how it pans out in practice will be watched closely by other countries that have the same concerns. What extremes students will go to to keep connected will be of interest, as will the students that have relied on connectivity to get answers to every academic challenge.