The NSW government’s announcement of banning mobile devices in primary public schools from next year has caused a mixed reaction among experts.
The new measures are in response to an expert review in June which showed links to rising cases of online bullying, unnecessary distractions, strangers and sharing of inappropriate images.
Parents and Citizens Federation Riverina electorate Dr Saba Nabi argued that handling any electronic device should be the responsibility of parents.
“It’s doubtful that this new policy will be any more effective than previous policies in reducing online risks like cyberbullying, because if parents allow their children to use digital devices in the first place, the students can still use them outside school hours and may be exposed to these risks regardless of actions the department takes,” Dr Nabi said.
“This is why, although schools can provide parents and students with information on cyber safety, the main responsibility for protecting students from online risks is parents.
“The policy appears to be a rushed political decision that has not been well thought through; students can use other mobile digital devices like laptops to do virtually anything a mobile phone can do, and it is still not clear whether the ban will apply to all mobile digital devices or only mobile phones.”
Up to now principals have followed a policy that enabled them to establish their own mobile phone policy in consultation with their school community.
Associate Professor Sarah Howard from the University of Wollongong’s School of Education opposed banning phones in classrooms.
“They’re very useful tools, even to primary school aged students who can use mobiles to access cameras, recording devices and they’re easy for kids to use,” Professor Howard said.
“Without mobiles, schools would have to buy cameras and there’s a lot of apps kids can use to practice their literacy and numeracy and communicate with each other.”
Professor Howard argued that how mobile phones are used is more important than the device itself.
“We mainly see parents give their children mobile phones around Year 6 or Year 7 and the percentage of primary aged children with mobiles is not extreme,” she said.
“I think it’s important to stress that how primary students learn how to manage and use them appropriately and productively will limit problems like cyber bullying.”
NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said the review stopped short of recommending a ban on smart devices in high schools, but offered approaches that schools could adopt.
“We’ll work with schools to implement the changes recommended in the report, helping them manage the risks and rewards of using mobile phones inside the school gates,” Mr Stokes said.
“These changes are about keeping our schools safe and protecting the welfare of our students when they’re in our care.”