It has made headlines across the state, throughout Australia, and even internationally. The introduction of a wholesale ban on mobile phones for students in Victorian state primary and secondary schools will begin in 2020, with calls for independent and Catholic schools in the state to adopt the measure, and even suggestions that the move may be implemented beyond Victoria. Initially announced by State Education Minister James Merlino, the ban is intended to reduce levels of student distraction in classrooms and cyberbullying in schools. In essence, it is a student wellbeing issue.
Welcoming the news of the ban, child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg highlighted the extent to which wellbeing is also an issue of compliance for schools:
“All schools have a legal obligation to provide a safe environment in which to learn. This significant policy initiative is designed to ensure the wellbeing of young people while at school, free of distraction and potentially cyberbullying.”
This attitude is echoed by many teachers, school leaders and educators, who have welcomed the news as a positive step towards improving the overall welfare of students. The ban, which will require students turn off their phones and place them in a locker during a school hours, has not been without opposition however. Sue Bell, president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, told ABC Radio Melbourne that students often do have legitimate reasons for using their phones - for instance to view assignment due dates and class locations - and the ban risks creating unnecessary conflict between teachers and students:
Indeed, there are legitimate, sensible reasons for both supporting and opposing the ban. On the one hand, it does seem to just be common sense: teachers already go to great lengths to prevent the use of mobile phones in school by students, why not enshrine this in law? On the other, it may lead to an even greater increase in bureaucracy, especially in larger schools, leaving staff more focused on disciplining students than teaching them - defeating the purpose of ensuring students aren't distracted in the first place.
However one feels about the mobile phone ban, it's clear that it raises a very important issue: the wellbeing of students. While the ban may not be the quick fix to this issue that some of its supporters hope it will be, there are a number of important steps schools can take today to begin working towards improved student wellbeing.
Improve communication with parents and guardians
One of the most prominent criticisms of the ban from parents and guardians is that there are occasions when it may be necessary for students to contact members of their family during breaks. By making communication between school staff and parents and guardians easier - for example, updates of incidents in real-time by SMS or email - this need is mitigated.
Teach students how to use their electronic devices safely
Student opponents of the ban have been supported by a number of teachers with their argument that in-school lessons about cyber safety are more important than a school phone ban if the goal is ending cyberbullying. This makes sense - a phone ban may end cyberbullying in schools, but certainly not outside of them, and lessons about online safety will have longterm benefits for students, and even staff.
Identify areas of additional support and intervention early
Tracking of student performance and behaviour makes it far easier to identify those who will need additional assistance early on, rather than allowing students to fall behind, lose confidence, or continue to behave in a manner that is distracting for other students.
It's clear that the mobile phone ban is more complicated than it might seem from the headlines - there are many ways to approach student wellbeing, and achieving the right balance is more important in the long run than a blanket ban. But it's also clear that big changes are needed to ensure wellbeing needs are met, and perhaps this ban offers the right place to begin.
Interested in finding out more about Compass?
The Compass site is a great place to start: discover our suite of integrated features, from Attendance to Wellbeing, learn more about the benefits of Compass for both parents and schools, or find out about how Compass was founded by John de la Motte and Lucas Filer in 2009.
You can also get in touch to book a demo with one of our Compass product experts by clicking the 'Get in touch' button below. You'll be guided through our all-in-one school management system, and we'll explain how our combination of great technology, highly trained and knowledgeable support, and continual product development will deliver the best for your school.