The menace of mobiles

Young people are increasingly attached to screens.
Young people are increasingly attached to screens. / SUR
  • Cyberbullying and incessant interruptions spark fear, yet the prevalence of mobile phones among pupils throws the efficiency of stringent bans into question

Mobile phones: a technological tool or dangerous distraction? Capturing pupils’ attention can be a daily contest for teachers, and, for many, the presence of mobile phones at schools presents just another challenge to overcome. While educational facilities across Europe have welcomed interactive devices into the classroom with open arms, others continue to persist in the uphill battle against the technological invasion.

France remains staunch in its defence, warring against the storming of smartphones with a national law, introduced in 2018. The law, passed during Jean-Michel Blanquer’s time in office as Minister of National Education, strictly bans the use of mobile phones and other internet-connected devices in the classroom, and pupils up to 15 years old have found themselves to be affected. The crackdown extends to 15+ lycées which have chosen to opt in to the ban.

The menace of mobiles


As comprehensive as it may be, however, teaching staff and parents alike are sceptical of the legislation’s de facto success; in a country where, according to 2016 statistics, 93 per cent of all adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 own a mobile phone, the implementation of this law in France is arguably a futile struggle.

The French ban has sparked debate in Spain, however, and the annual back-to-school September migration launches Spanish mobile phone use into the spotlight. Spain’s Instituto Nacional de Estadística reports that 69.8 per cent of minors between the ages of ten and 15 own a mobile device in 2019, and the infiltration of such technology into schools triggers questions of whether a similar ban should be enforced.

Technological threats

Upon passing the 2018 law in France Blanquer cited protection as the primary propellant of the legislation. Exposure to violent or pornographic images is a threat to young pupils, yet the worry of cyberbullying arguably feels closer to home.

Spain has not escaped this fear, and schools across the country have placed strict regulations on the use of mobile phones in an attempt to curb the risk of online victimisation. In 2016, Spanish newspaper El País reported unsettling statistics: one in four incidences of school bullying occurs via a technological device. Secondary school can be an intimidating jump for many, and the challenge of online interaction presents an added pressure for vulnerable adolescents. Comments online can be misconstrued, and cyberbullying is becoming more prevalent as a result.

The prohibition of mobile phones in schools has also been prompted by alarm caused by addiction. Screen fixation is rife among young people, and the term ‘nomophobia’ has been coined in an attempt to label the now commonplace fear of being unable to access or use your smart device.

Not only are schools reluctant to encourage such addictive behaviour, but worrying results from investigations mean that teachers are also wary of the obsession’s adverse effects. Evidence suggests that addiction to screens negatively impacts the neurons in the brain, triggering shorter attention spans and issues with distraction.

The intermittent vibrations and ringtone chirps disrupt the flow of lessons, as guilty pupils sheepishly admit to not having turned off their phones. The frustration of teachers is understandable; underachievement of pupils who have failed to concentrate in class because they have instead been distracted by an influx of text messages is a growing concern, and cheating in tests is facilitated by access to search engines on phones.

The menace of mobiles


The digital divide is yet another argument of weight, as, despite pupils owning a mobile phone being the norm these days, some families still struggle to afford a device. A mobile phone can go out of fashion by the season, and smartphones, in particular, can leave a significant dent in your pocket. The issue extends to the schools themselves, as many institutions around Spain do not have desktop facilities or suffer from bandwidth issues, and inequality within the classroom could justify a stringent mobile phone ban.

Fraternising with the enemy

Nevertheless, despite growing fears, many headteachers across Spain realise the importance of not viewing mobile phones as the enemy, but instead as an ally with powerful potential in the educational field. Smart technology has become an ingrained part of the everyday life of 21st century adolescents, and to point-blank prohibit its presence in schools would constitute a backward-looking refusal to move with the times.

For less conservative institutions, handheld devices are seen as just another information resource, adding breadth to lessons currently restricted to films, whiteboards, and books. Virtual reality promises a plethora of opportunities, as 360-degree expeditions would breathe life into geography lessons in the classroom. Projects involving video recording spark excitement for younger pupils.

Safety is another aspect to be considered, and a sweeping ban on mobile phones could come under fire from parents concerned about being unable to contact their children. While institutions might argue that communication can be mediated via school secretaries if necessary, it is crucial to remember that, after a certain age, many school pupils travel home alone. As adolescents gain independence, a mobile phone is nowadays viewed as a lifesaving tool in the case of an emergency.

Teacher training

Ultimately, however, a mobile phone’s potential can only be exploited in the classroom if the teachers themselves understand how the technology works. For staff with a traditional background, educational apps and cutting-edge resources can be alien, yet it is important not to be daunted; teacher training courses should incorporate tech programmes as a priority.