To Be or Not to Be: Pros and Cons of the Presence of Mobile Phones in Schools

This is an ongoing debate across the educational world. This coin has two sides: while one group of teachers and parents (and even some nerds) vote for a full mobile ban, another promotes the usage of mobile devices as a relevant study instrument in terms of highly digitized world.

So, as Hamlet hesitated, we now have to guess whether schools have to allow the free use of mobile phones and similar devices?

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In some educational institutions, students are already authorized to use devices in a restricted form. A couple of days ago, NY Mayor de Blasio lifted a 10-year ban on phones on school premises as the way to reduce social inequality. But barely anyone cannot afford at least a budget Lenovo, Fly, or cheap Samsung smartphone. So this reasoning seems weak enough to suppose Mayor merely tries to avoid cheating.

Our resource has conducted a broad study among New York high school students and teachers to find out what was the result of banning mobile phones this year. Well, we cannot soothe the heavy mobile users: with this forbidding policy, the test scores improved even among D and F graders. On the whole, we discovered the positive influence of banning phones for these students equivalent to an additional hour a week (!) in school, or to increasing the school year by five days. It proves that when there is really nothing left to do, the best decision is to study a bit.

Increased Performance: Coincidence or Fact?

In the United Kingdom, mobile devices are far popular amongst teens. So we took a step there. Our target audience consisted of Birmingham, London, Leicester and Manchester students. Here, everything is more strict than in the US: since 2001, the restricting policies are in the law. We evaluated the externally marked national exams scores starting from 2002.

The results are not that impressive. Frankly speaking, it almost had no impact towards elementary and middle school kids.

As for the students aged 16, their academic performance raised by 6.4% (taking standard deviation into account). It also adds up 5 days to the school year.

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To say, in 2012, around 90% of British teenagers owned a mobile phone. This indicator is higher than American children perform, so it makes more sense to restrict usage in this country. American kids are less addicted most probably ‘cause of the range of other activities. To compare, about 73% of teens own a corresponding device. What is more important is that these changes most influence lowest achievers, so it is their chance to catch up. After all, this policy exacerbates learning inequalities.

The gains observed amongst students with lowest achievement when phones were banned double those recorded among average students. By the way, instead of saving money to buy a more fashionable and expensive model and staying hungry, poor students can now focus on own health.

As for the top students, basically nothing changed for them. So, they are somehow unfairly suffering. J What is more curious, 14-year-olds were not affected. The reason is a small phone use among them. So, it means that 14-15-year-old children are more likely to choose an active life instead of gaming and chatting all the time.

In 2001, none of the surveyed schools had a ban in place; by 2007 this had increased to 50%; and by 2012, 98% of schools did not allow phones on campus (or required them to be handed in at the beginning of the day).

What is This Policy about?

Technological innovations are commonly viewed as higher productivity and better academic performance. Perhaps, it makes sense, but only when they are used for research, not for fun. Digital devices are widely used and even requested in the higher educational institutions in order to engage students and raise performance. The difference is that older students are more self- conscious and are not interested in apps, games, and chatting. They know what they are looking for. They remember how hard enrolling process was.

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Experts think that students are disturbed by texting, games, and social media while in the class. However, with restricting only fun apps, they will focus more on educational materials and academic file sharing. The financial resources that schools would require for a similar gain in instruction time (the equivalent of restricting mobile phone use) would be quite substantial.

So, instead of simply forbidding something, it has to be analyzed and re-structured. But looks like nobody is in a hurry. NY Mayor gave up under the pressure of outraged kids and some parents. Now, students are allowed to bring their phones again. However, according to our independent survey, such a position will harm the lowest achieving and low-income students for sure.