The head of a Yorkshire school was recently warned against using mobile phone jamming technology to stop children getting distracted during lessons. Julia Polley’s conundrum, how to get kids to stop browsing the internet and focus on their classes, is one that we can all sympathise with. The Ofcom spokesperson even expressed their sympathy over the school’s concerns about mobile phones in the classroom. Nevertheless, the heart of their statement was that “signal blockers can harm other people’s mobile reception, as well as interfering with the emergency services and air traffic control.” Devices that act as an internet blocker like the one planned for use at Wensleydale School in Leyburn can interfere with radio communications. That’s why their use can be considered a criminal offence in the UK under the Wireless Telegraphy Act.
Phones in school: pros and cons
Nobody’s arguing that mobile phones aren’t extremely useful and even necessary in the modern world. Most people have at least one. Perhaps you’re reading this article on an iPhone or Android tablet yourself! It is hard to think of a single area of our life not being affected by the use of mobile devices of some sort.
The classroom is not an exception. What’s more, there are some good reasons to allow mobile phone use in schools:
- phones make it possible for us to stay in touch with our children while they’re in school
- we can use them to monitor our children during school time
- if something unexpected comes up (like a delay at work, resulting in a slightly late pick up from school) it gives us a way to let them know and avoid unnecessary anxiety
On the other hand, phones in school can cause some problems:
- social media can be a platform for bullying and social exclusion, usually beyond the sight of teachers and other concerned adults
- excessive mobile communication and reliance on trending memes and emoji usurp the formation of effective, face to face communication skills
- having a gaming and messaging machine always to hand creates massive potential for distraction from school work
- students sometimes even use their smart devices to cheat on exams
Internet blocker solutions
Despite the pros outlined above, the cons leave us wanting to put some form of limitation on phone or screen time usage in our schools. Many schools ban mobile devices completely and there’s some evidence to suggest it’s an effective method. Given the constantly growing role of mobile phones in our lives though, many parents find this option too extreme. They don’t want to completely prohibit the use of mobile phones. Rather they want to encourage children to use them appropriately by fostering some form of “mobile etiquette”.
Polley’s plan consisted of several parts. The internet blocking technology she planned on using is illegal. She also mentioned improving the system wide filters being implemented on the school wifi though. It might be tempting to not allow wifi access to student devices at all. To do this though would be to ignore an essential control point and drive students to rely on 4G and other mobile internet, completely beyond the schools control. Effective wifi filters are an important, though not entirely fail proof tool in our efforts to place appropriate boundaries on student device use.
Effective monitoring and control of kids’ mobile phone usage is not just the task of schools though, but also of parents. That’s why many parents today are using parental control applications or app blockers like Kidslox. These allow them to effectively block their children’s internet access at times when they need to be focussing on other things. Whether that’s in the classroom, while doing homework or when they ought to be asleep.
The most important thing is that students need to know school is a safe place for them. They have to be able to come into school feeling supported and protected.