When the bell rings to signal the start of term one at state schools across Victoria in 2020, students will be banned from using their phones until the end of the school day.

Announced by Education Minister James Merlino, the ban is an effort to reduce distractions in the classroom, as well as a way of tackling cyber bullying with the view to improve education outcomes.

During school hours, students will be required to switch off their mobile devices and store them in lockers until the final bell of the day.

In the case that parents or guardians need to reach their child in an emergency, they can call the school.

The announcement has been welcomed by many, with readers of Neos Kosmos rejoicing on Facebook – a number of them exclaiming “Finally!”

“They did well to do so!!!” said Irene Michailidou Dimos, and Angeliki Georgakopoulos remarked “That’s the way! Mobile phones are the ultimate disaster for children!!!”

Efi Georgopoulou said “This has to happen everywhere”, a sentiment shared by Nota Bakavgas: “This should happen at all schools around the world”.
While Stella Gialama from Greece said “Bravo!! I hope this will also happen here”.

Oakleigh Grammar Principal Mark Robertson told Neos Kosmos he could see the rationale behind the ban, recognising that phones can cause significant distractions. But when it comes to tackling cyber bullying, he doesn’t think it will be very effective.

“Bullying per se has been around since there’s been more than two people in the world that we live in. I guess the difference is that cyber bullying with technology has now become equal to the issues we used to deal with when it was traditional forms of bullying. So now we’re dealing with traditional forms and cyber bullying, so by not having the phones at school, it will reduce the opportunity for students to misuse their phones during school hours. But that certainly won’t cut out the advent of cyber bullying,” he explained.

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Mr Robertson says a more effective approach would be greater education around cyber bullying, including both students and parents in the process.

Meanwhile students contacting parents directly throughout the day when an issue arises is another challenge.

“I think that does have a negative impact on allowing schools to sort through issues and then advising parents after they sort through the issues. And sometimes what’s happening, if students do actually ring their parents at any time during the school day, then the parents are very quick to be reactive than understanding the full context, which makes it a bit more challenging for schools,” Mr Robertson explains.

While the government’s ban only applies to state schools, Mr Robertson said like most other independent schools, Oakleigh Grammar has had a similar policy in place for some time.

“At Oakleigh Grammar we do have a mobile phone policy and the policy is very clear that students are not permitted to use their mobile phones during the course of the school day. But we don’t insist that they’re banned.”

Rather than outright banning phones, the principal says they prefer to educate children around correct use of their devices.

“We don’t use the word ‘ban’ or they must be locked in lockers, but we don’t want to see them at all from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm. Now at the end of the day we don’t mind because a lot of students need their phones to contact their parents for pick up and information regarding what they’re doing after school hours,” he explains.

Similar to Oakleigh Grammar, the state school ban will also have exceptions for students who use their mobile devices to monitor health conditions or if teachers instruct students to bring their phones to class for an activity.

So how effective has the policy been so far?

Mr Robertson says that in cases where students do not adhere to the rules, phones are confiscated, and if repeated parents are then contacted about the child’s right to bring their phone to school at all.

“But we haven’t really have had to exercise that at our school,” he says.

“So the kids are respecting the policy.
“My firm belief with mobile phones is that education is the best way to address the issue.”

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