Society: Mobile phone ban in schools: sensible or counterproductive?

Should smartphones be banned in schools or not? Advances from other European countries have reignited the debate. But the experts are anything but unanimous.

In the past, teachers mainly had to deal with cheat sheets, little notes that went from row to row in class, or secret smokers behind the gymnasium. This happened regularly, but only affected individual students. Today, teachers’ eyes have to be almost everywhere at the same time. Because the majority of their pupils have a smartphone. What they do with it is difficult to control.

Italy recently responded to this problem and announced that it would generally ban smartphones and tablets in primary and secondary schools. The British government also recently published guidelines on how schools can prevent or limit smartphone use. A similar directive has been in effect in the Netherlands since the beginning of the year. The schools can then decide for themselves how to implement them. And in Germany?

Majority for a ban on cell phones in schools

According to a recent survey by the opinion research institute YouGov, 66 percent of people in Germany say that cell phones should definitely or rather be banned in schools. However, the topic is – not surprisingly – also a generational question, as a survey by the opinion research institute Insa on behalf of the “Bild” newspaper shows. In it, 60 percent of those surveyed support a ban on cell phones in schools. At 75 percent, approval is highest among 60 to 69 year olds, while only 40 percent of 18 to 29 year olds are in favor.

In Germany, schools are a state matter. According to the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, there is no general ban on private smartphones in schools – and a corresponding recommendation is not planned, a spokesman said. However, schools could limit their use in everyday school life. But whether and how, it looks different at every school.

A heterogeneity that is expressly desired in Bavaria, for example. “The cell phone is a daily and natural companion for students.” A general ban on all types of schools is therefore not appropriate, explains a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Culture.

Pediatricians see negative consequences in practice

According to the digital association Bitkom, 71 percent of children and young people between the ages of 6 and 18 in Germany own a smartphone. They spend an average of 111 minutes, or almost two hours, doing this every day.

Pediatric and adolescent doctors see the consequences every day in their work: posture problems, obesity, type 2 diabetes, increased levels of ADHD and aggressiveness, reduced learning, concentration and writing skills, says David Martin from the University of Witten/Herdecke on. “The majority of children and young people and their parents cannot regulate screen time.”

That’s why the expert on screen media at the German Society for Child and Adolescent Medicine is of the opinion: “It would clearly be better for children’s health, their ability to concentrate and learn and, above all, for their socialization if schools banned cell phones.” These should not be used, especially during breaks.

Florian Fabricius from the Federal Student Conference has a completely different opinion: “Cell phone bans only lead to our schools becoming even more backward-looking and out of touch with reality,” he says. The Federal Student Conference, which claims to represent eight million students, therefore rejects bans.

Media education instead of bans

Child protection expert Benjamin Thull from the Baden-Württemberg State Office for Communications even considers bans to be counterproductive. “The smartphone is the medium through which everything happens. I think banning it from school is a mistake.” There are children and young people who do not learn media skills at home. That’s why the topic should play an important role in schools. The prerequisite is: “Cell phones must not disrupt lessons and no gaming or writing is allowed in private.”

The German Children’s Fund sees it similarly: “Children should have the opportunity at an early stage to deal with the possible uses of cell phones in a supported environment such as that which schools should offer,” says President Thomas Krüger. In the best case scenario, the rules should be negotiated with the students – and in the event of violations, the removal of the smartphone could be legitimate if all educational resources have been exhausted. “In many places, however, it is clear that teachers lack the time, personnel and, in some cases, the qualifications to deal with the challenges of media use by students other than with bans.”

“Does enormous damage to the student-teacher relationship”

Bans because it’s practical? Implementing cell phone-free times in everyday school life can be difficult. Students have always found ways to get around school rules. Today, the whole thing is like fighting against windmills, you hear when you ask teachers. And not all colleagues looked closely – also because conflicts were inevitable. “If teachers suddenly become police officers and start searching students for cell phones, it damages the student-teacher relationship enormously,” says Fabricius. “For good learning, however, it is essential that teachers and students cooperate and work with each other and not against each other.”

However, from Stefan Düll, President of the German Teachers’ Association, schools cannot allow smartphones and their consequences to run uncontrolled. “Smartphones have a high potential for distraction. Schools have to take this into account.” Germany is not as advanced as Denmark and other countries when it comes to digitizing schools, but it also has the chance to learn from their mistakes, he says.

Cell phones are not used in Marieskolen

In Denmark, for example, the private Marieskolen in Tønder has rowed back again: children and young people now have to hand in their smartphones and laptops there in the morning, as several media reported. Since then, a clear difference has been noticed among the students, reports headteacher Sarah Røll when asked. They played together again and didn’t just walk around with cell phones in their hands and headphones in their ears.

Stefan Düll’s school, the Justus-von-Liebig-Gymnasium in Neusäß near Augsburg, is also making a new attempt at banning cell phones. This was coordinated with the class representatives, among other things, says the headmaster. Since the beginning of the second half of the year, smartphones have had to remain switched off until 1 p.m., with a few exceptions. “We now have to put this into practice,” says Düll. There were cell phone rules at the school before, but they no longer really adhered to them.


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