Should mobile phones be banned in schools?

Astronomically priced Samsung Galaxy handsets and Apple iPhones aside, the costs of acquiring mobile phones and data plans have been falling steadily over the years. This has in turn fueled the huge surge in mobile phone penetration rates as far as Singaporean users are concerned. These days even young children are given spanking new phones (plus 24×7 connection to the world wide web) without second thought by doting parents.

Previously, mobile devices were rarely carried in schools by students because their exorbitant price tags couldn't be afforded by many. Today it is an entirely different story, as kids are often seen flaunting and fidgeting with their latest purchases. A handheld phone in the strictest original definition should merely serve as a communication tool, but of course it has since evolved into something so much more. No doubt students becoming obsessed with trending online applications and social media sharing have gotten schools frowning, yet MOE has shied away from imposing an irrevocably thorough ban on usage, instead choosing to grant individual schools autonomy to chart their own policies. Consequently overbearing parents will seize every opportunity to "bully" school administrators into making unreasonable compromises over (possibly even getting them to acquiesce to a complete suspension of) enacted rules .

It also isn't helped by the fact many dads and moms are according their children generous leeway to disregard standing school rules. Students therefore hide phones in their bags, only to take them out to text friends and play games under their desks during official lesson hours. Others retreat to toilet cubicles or the playground area to do you know what. The distraction to their studies, compounded with other social issues like theft, cyberbullying and even teacher harassment are giving discipline masters in schools the extra headache they do not need.

How do other countries tackle this knotty problem then? The French government has instituted a blanket ban for all schools up to the Junior High (Secondary 4) level. Inevitably this has attracted a fair amount of controversy at the onset, however it has generally received support from her citizens (after all French President Emmanuel Macron was fulfilling a campaign pledge). Across the English Channel in the UK, no such law exists. However, mobile phone use is discouraged in most schools, especially for children under 11 years of age. Older students do enjoy a wee bit more flexibility, then again phone usage policies remain largely restrictive. Further away in the United States, the story remains pretty much the same - schools steer independently on account of their own established rules and policies. Hong Kong on the other hand (also with an extremely high mobile phone penetration rate like Singapore) offers no meaningful takeaway, if anything folks there are plain lackadaisical in enforcing discipline surrounding use of such gadgets on school premises. Hardly surprising given that anyone who isn't still a toddler probably owns a mobile device.

A Harvard Health research disconcertingly demonstrated that the mere presence of a phone even when the owner is not looking at it can serve as a significant distraction. By extension, does this study imply that it is not sufficient to simply require students to keep their phones switched off and stowed away in schoolbags? The search by Singapore schools for a truly wholesome solution to this perplexing state of affairs continues.

This was reproduced with permission from editors of Sure Boh Singapore.


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