The push to ban cell phones in high schools is gaining momentum

Carr-Gregg said the fallout from the pandemic has put increasing pressure on governments to do “everything in their power” to improve students’ ability to learn and socialize away from the distractions of technology.

“We know children struggle to engage once they return to the classroom. It is amazing to me that this has not happened and it is now more urgent than ever.”

Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg calls for a cell phone ban in high schools.

Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg calls for a cell phone ban in high schools.Recognition:Wayne Taylor

The issue of cellphones in schools has sparked heated debate among teachers and parents: some say children should be taught to use their cellphones responsibly and bans should be avoided, but many are concerned they are a major distraction in the classroom.

Telephones are restricted in high schools in Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia. South Australia’s education minister, Blair Boyer, is reportedly considering a ban in the state’s secondary schools.

In 2015, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio lifted a ban on phones in the city’s schools, in what he called a “healthy approach” that would allow students to stay in touch with parents. About four years ago, French schools banned the use of cellphones in schools from primary to ninth grade.

Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg previously said mobile distraction was a key reason for Australia’s decline in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) rankings, but said he urged caution in introducing open restrictions.

“I am skeptical of a system-wide ban because it undermines the benefits that technology brings to learning, health and safety, and more importantly, it reduces the need in schools to use safe, responsible and healthy and learning about life with digital media and technologies,” he said.

“Experiences from places where smartphone bans have been in place suggest that monitoring the illegal possession or use of smartphones and other devices can be frustrating and also interfere with student learning,” Sahlberg said.

Craig Petersen, the leader of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, said outright bans could be problematic, especially with unequal access to technology across schools.


“We need input from parents, and we have so many layers of disadvantage across the state. We must be careful not to aggravate injustices; for some students, it’s the only technology they have access to,” Petersen said, noting that there are concerns about online bullying and harassment.

“It’s an area we’re watching closely. If there is a blanket ban, school leaders and teachers need strong support to enforce the ban.”

Zara Spennato, a 12th-grade student, said it’s useful to have a cellphone in older classes to take photos of work or use it as a hotspot for her laptop.

“However, it can be confusing for students because some teachers want it put away and others allow it. I like having my phone with me in case I need it, but I think the negatives outweigh the positives,” she said.


“People abuse photo rights and are consumed by social media. Kids should interact on the playground but instead they’re sitting on Instagram and Snapchat, which is terrible for social skills and prevents them from interacting, especially at a younger age,” she said, acknowledging the difficulty, especially in big schools, for Teachers to use the phone to monitor.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said there had been nearly 900 reports of cyberbullying against young people under the age of 18 this year, an 80 per cent increase compared to the first six months of 2021.

“Now we’re starting to come out on the other side of the pandemic, and a lot of parents are telling us they’re having a hard time getting screen time and social media use back,” she said.

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said COVID-19 had highlighted that digital devices, when used appropriately, “play an important role in keeping students connected and supporting learning”.

“Mobile devices are restricted in elementary schools during school hours. In secondary schools, we trust school leaders to find the right balance and work collaboratively with their wider school community, including parents. They can use a number of innovative ways to solve the problem that best suits their school,” the spokesperson said.

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Joel McCord

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