France Bans Smartphones in Schools, but Not Everyone is Happy

France has officially banned children from using smartphones and internet-capable devices inside schools, except for pre-approved devices for educational purposes.

Fulfilling one of President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign promises, the French government has successfully passed legislation that means school-children aged between three and 15 years must leave their smartphones, tablets and other similar devices at home or must have them switched off while on school grounds. This builds on a 2010 law that banned using smartphones during class time.

The law still allows for schools to use their own pre-approved devices, and there are allowances for children with specialized learning needs, who may rely on these devices to navigate the school curricula.

Supporters of the ban say this is about rolling back what they perceive as intrusive screen time that is actually harming children.

“We know today that there is a phenomenon of screen addiction, the phenomenon of bad mobile phone use… Our main role is to protect children and adolescents,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer commented on the ban. “It is a fundamental role of education, and this law allows it.”

Individual high schools, where children are over the age of 15, will be able to choose whether they allow smart devices and how far they permit them to be used, if at all.

Should Other Countries Follow France’s Lead?

Some people believe so. There are studies that show banning smartphones during learning time leads to better educational outcomes.

A large study of 91 UK schools demonstrated that  a ban on smartphones actually led to better results. The reasons for this are likely complex, but the researchers in that study believed that the low-level distraction caused by smartphones could prevent children from focusing.

Other research has also demonstrated that high smartphone use tends to overlap with cyberbullying involvement, both as victim and as a perpetrator. This isn’t that surprising, of course, but it does suggest that there could be real value in limiting smartphone access during learning time and even beyond that.

Some teachers in the US have campaigned for state- and even national-level bans that empower schools to enforce their existing policies simply because, at the moment, they are finding it hard to compete with smart technology constantly interrupting their classroom time. They also say there is a demonstrable problem with smartphones and bullying, something they are not equipped to police, because they do not have the time or energy. They believe that requiring smartphones stay off-campus can better help them create a quality learning environment.

Not Everyone is Convinced a Smartphone Ban is a Good Thing

“This isn’t a 21st-century law in our eyes, but a law from the era of news channels and binary debate,” Alex Corbière of left-wing Unbowed France told CNN. “In reality, the ban has already been made. I don’t know a single teacher in this country that allows the use of phones in class.”

Critics point out that most, if not all, schools have already instituted such a ban. They argue that this ban is, at best, virtue signaling and at worst part of a wider agenda of using state control to regulate interpersonal behaviors. Critics point to France’s texting ban in cars (even if parked at the side of the road) as a ready example but say that this extends to other areas, like France’s ban on face veils.

That might seem like a stretch, but campaigners argue that this is all part of the same government overreach.

In the US, there are also some persuasive arguments against such a ban. In 2015, New York mayor Bill de Blasio lifted a decade-old ban on smartphones in schools, saying that the ban unfairly targets schools in low-income communities, where smartphones are the only way children have of keeping in touch with their parents and where their schedules may depend on regular interaction.

US critics have also pointed out that smartphone and tablet devices may be pivotal for learning in underprivileged areas, where schools do not have the resources to provide adequate numbers of devices themselves.

While there is research to show that smart devices can detract from the learning environment, there are also studies showing that, even where smartphone bans are active, kids are still bringing in those devices. More interesting than that though, some teachers believe that kids should be encouraged to use smartphones to help with their learning by searching for supplementary material for their assignments.

There is also some limited research that suggests the anxiety of not having ready access to smartphones may in fact impinge on learning, something that will have to be explored more fully but that does seem to tally with emerging evidence that smartphone reliance is now leading to anxiety when smart phone access is restricted.

Most critics of overt bans actually seem in favor of controlling smartphone use in schools and believe that it is right to regulate their use during learning time. They also readily admit that smartphones can and are being used as tools to bully other children.

But, they point out, smartphones are actively part of many a child’s social life, and they allow communication in ways that previously could not be achieved. To ban them completely, they say, may do more harm than good.

Is France’s ban on smartphones a good thing, or is it a step too far? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below. 

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

50 comments

Chad A
Chad Anderson14 days ago

Thank you.

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Angela K
Angela K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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S M
S M3 months ago

Good for France, all schools/countries should do same.

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Winn A
Winn Adams3 months ago

Noted

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HEIKKI R
HEIKKI R3 months ago

thank you

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michela c
michela c3 months ago

*done

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michela c
michela c3 months ago

Well donne!

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Tania N
Tania N3 months ago

Thank you

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Tania N
Tania N3 months ago

Thank you

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O3 months ago

This will cause some kids to stay at home from school to keep playing games on tablets.

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