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Trend of banning mobile phones in Australian high schools ‘not backed by research,’ expert warns


While a NSW Labor government would ban mobile phones in high schools if elected, an expert says the trending policy across Australia does not improve students’ focus. 

NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns on Thursday praised South Australia for joining Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia in banning the use of devices during school hours. 

Mr Minns announced in September that he would follow suit if elected in March, saying mobile phones were distracting from schoolwork. 

“It’s been resisted in New South Wales and frankly it shouldn’t be,” he said. 

“We’re asking children … teenage years and younger, to battle the forces of the big technology, and say no to mobile phones in the classroom.

“When we know these devices are in many ways built to keep people on their device for as long as possible.”

a man wearing a suit standing in front of another man wearing a suit and talking to the media
Opposition Leader Chris Minns praised South Australia for its policy that started this term.(ABC News)

However, digital literacy and wellbeing expert Dr Joanne Orlando said banning phones did not solve the two key issues the policy was designed to address: focus at school and bullying. 

“The majority of cyberbullying happens outside of school hours … and bullying doesn’t necessarily all occur online, most of the bullying actually happens offline, the oldschool way,” she said. 

Dr Orlando said online distraction was complicated, but school was prime time to teach children better ways of managing it. 

“The idea of banning it kind of washes schools’ hands with any responsibility around teaching students how not to be distracted. 

“Because they’re still going home and studying and doing their homework, in a very technology-saturated home environment.

“We’re losing billions of dollars worldwide due to digital distraction. So if students aren’t learning how to focus while around these devices, they’re not going to learn it in the workplace.” 

a woman looking and smiling
Dr Joanne Orlando says most cyberbullying takes place outside of school hours.(Supplied: Dr Joanne Orlando)

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell believes secondary schools can manage the issue, and said the majority of them have already implemented their own restrictions. 

However, South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas on Tuesday said parents were loving the consistency of knowing the same rule applied to everyone.

“The idea that we would have some schools allowing kids to use their phones in recess and lunch and other schools having a ban across the day, means that parents and students alike think it’s unfair,” he said. 

“It’s confusing that some kids would be allowed to have mobile phones in schools and others wouldn’t.”

a group of young girls standing around and using their mobile phones, you can only see their legs
The South Australian premier says the blanket rule ensured consistency.(ABC News)

A Sydney high school admin worker said a blanket ban was a “fantastic idea” as they were “absolutely distracting” students from their study. 

“We do notice a lot of the children are on their phones constantly, they’re not allowed to use them, but they’re on their phones all the time,” Alex Voudouris said.

“There is a ban from the moment they walk in the school gates to have their phones put away in their bags.

“But all the students still use them. A lot of them call their parents throughout the day. It’s a huge problem for Sydney schools.”

While Ms Voudouris couldn’t comment on specific cases, she said phones were “absolutely” being used for cyberbullying — another “huge issue,” she said.

a woman wearing glasses standing outdoors at a school playground looking at the camera
The education minister says high schools were already dealing with the issue.(ABC News: Sarah Mitchell)

Dr Orlando has spent a lot of time interviewing all age groups about their daily online habits.

“A lot of people feel quite out of control in terms of their technology use as adults,” she said. 

She said this hard-handed policy, while popular with parents, had no long-term research proving its efficacy. 

“We’re seeing these politicians saying, ‘well, it won’t hurt them’. Well, that’s not the reason to make a policy like this.”

And with the rise in popularity of online tools such as ChatGPT, Dr Orlando said students online learning was a far more complex question than a simple ban could answer. 



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