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High school mobile phone ban push gains momentum

Carr-Gregg said the pandemic fallout has put mounting pressure on governments to do “everything in their power” to increase students’ ability to learn and socialize away from the distraction of technology.

“We know kids are struggling to engage after coming back to the classroom. It is baffling to me that this hasn’t happened, and it is now more urgent than ever.”

Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg is calling for cell phones to be banned in high schools.

Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg is calling for cell phones to be banned in high schools.Credit:Wayne Taylor

The mobiles in schools question has triggered heated debate among teachers and parents: some say children should learn to use their phones responsibly and bans should be avoided, but many are concerned they are major classroom distractions.

Phones are restricted in high schools in Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia. South Australian Education Minister Blair Boyer is reportedly considering a ban in the state’s secondary schools.

In 2015, New York mayor Bill de Blasio lifted a prohibition on phones in the city’s schools, which he said was a “commonsense approach” that would allow students to keep in touch with parents. About four years ago French schools banned the use of mobiles in schools from primary to year 9.

Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg previously said mobile distraction was a key reason for Australia’s decline in Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, but said he urged caution on implementing outright restrictions.

“I am skeptical about a system-wide ban because it undermines the benefits that technology brings to learning, health, and safety, and more importantly, it reduces the necessity in schools to learn safe, responsible and healthy use and living with digital media and technologies,” he said.

“Experience from places where smartphone bans have been in place suggest that policing illicit possession or use of smartphones and other devices can become frustrating and harm student learning as well,” Sahlberg said.

Craig Petersen, the head of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, said complete bans could be problematic especially with inequitable access to technology across schools.


“We need input from parents, and we have so many layers of disadvantage across the state. We have to be careful we don’t exacerbate inequities; for some students it is the only technology they have access to,” Petersen said, noting there are concerns about online bullying and harassment.

“It’s an area we are monitoring closely. If there is a blanket ban there would have to be strong support for principals and teachers to enforce the ban.”

Year 12 student Zara Spennato said it was useful to have a mobile in older grades for taking pictures of work or to use as a hotspot for her laptop.

“It can be confusing for students though because some teachers want them put away and others allow them. I like having my phone on me in case I need it, but I think the negatives outweigh the positives,” she said.


“People abuse photo rights, and they get consumed by social media. Kids should be interacting in the playground, but instead they sit on Instagram and Snapchat which is terrible for social skills and stops them interacting, especially in younger years,” she said, acknowledging the difficulty, especially at large schools, for teachers to monitor phone use

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said there had been almost 900 cyberbullying reports concerning young people aged under 18 years this year, an 80 percent increase compared to the first six months of 2021.

“Now we are starting to come out the other side of the pandemic and many parents are telling us they are finding it hard to ratchet increased screen time and social media usage back,” she said.

A NSW Department of Education spokesperson said that COVID-19 highlighted that when digital devices are used appropriately they have “an important role to play in keeping students connected and can support learning”.

“Mobile devices are restricted in primary schools during school time. In secondary schools we trust principals to strike the right balance, working with their wider school community including parents. They can use a range of innovative ways to manage the issue that best suits their school,” the spokesperson said.

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