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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Ban phones in school: The experiment with kids' minds has failed

Smart phones are making students less smart, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Student achievement has been falling around the world as children's use of phones and social media has grown. Anxiety and depression are rising.

Photo: Cottonbro Studio/Pexels

The latest report by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows 15-year-olds in developed countries are doing much worse in math, reading and science, he writes. It's not just Covid: The downward trends started 10 to 12 years ago, just as teens were getting hooked on smart phones and social media.

PISA reported that students who spend less than one hour of their school day on digital devices score much higher in math, Thompson notes. But even those who aren't on their own phones said they're distracted by phone-checking classmates. Nearly half of students feel “nervous” or “anxious” when their devices aren't available. Those students are less satisfied with life, the survey showed. And they earn lower math scores.

We've been "running a global experiment" on "the minds of young people," and the results are in, concludes Thompson. There is "a negative relationship between device use and life satisfaction, happiness, school attention, information retention, in-class note-taking, task-switching, and student achievement." He argues it's time to ban phones in schools.

Phone-addicted teens are distracted and depressed, writes Jonathan Haidt, also in The Atlantic. Haidt's research has focused on the "international epidemic of mental illness, which started around 2012.

Schools must get serious about phone bans, he writes.

Many studies have established that, despite schools’ rules against it, students check their phone a lot during class, and that they receive and send texts if they can get away with it. Their focus is often and easily derailed by interruptions from their device. . . . Nearly 60 percent of students said that they spend more than 10 percent of class time on their phone, mostly texting. Many studies show that students who use their phone during class learn less and get lower grades.

Many schools now ban phone use during class, but rules aren't enforced consistently.

Tim Daly writes about how to ban phones without turning teachers into phone police. He thinks "schools should invest in secure, signal-blocking pouches from a company like Yondr." Students can unlock the pouches at day's end.

The policy has to be enforced consistently, he writes. Confiscating the contraband phone till the end of the day isn't enough.

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