NGS News

Managing Smartphones in Schools

The misuse and impact of digital devices and smartphones by school students has been reported in a series of articles recently in the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD.

In 2022, a leading independent day and boarding school for boys in Sydney made a policy decision to stop students from bringing their own laptops to school. According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, this was “partly because boys were distracted by online gambling, social media and pornography when they were supposed to be listening to their teachers.” 

At NGS, we would recognise that such behaviours may exist in schools if teachers were not able to provide active learning and teaching in the classroom and the constant moral guidance needed (and most often desired) by our young people. Being proactive in our teaching along with a high regard for student wellbeing and the moral guidance provided by our teachers, does significantly reduce the likelihood that we would experience the issues apparent at this Sydney boys’ school. 

Subsequent to this article, a leading Sydney girls’ school is reported to have brought in new restrictions on the use of smartphones by their students. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that this latest move by this and other schools is in response to the escalation of screen time brought on by intensified use of technology devices during home learning through the Pandemic. This article also indicates that there needs to be a responsibility on the part of schools to educate their students on the appropriate use of devices including mobile phones.

In 2019, following our own concerns with the increasing use of smartphones, particularly during break times, rather than adopt a policy that may not suit our individual circumstances, a review of the current research literature was undertaken and a position paper written.

Rather than simply following the contexts mentioned above that relate to students accessing pornography, gambling and social media in classes or responding to excessive screen time or reducing instances of cyberbullying at school, none of which were identified as issues of concern at NGS during school hours, we chose to take a more proactive approach with a focus on our students’ wellbeing. In contrast to the deficit approach described above, our approach at NGS is always a strengths approach. We recognise that our young people are good people with strengths of character. We know our young people live in an environment created by us, and we have a responsibility to assist them in flourishing as they navigate that environment. Hence, we ensure through our wellbeing and mentoring programs that students are well aware of the advantages and pitfalls inherent in their use of their devices, and we have strategies in place designed to encourage responsible behaviours.

We have not followed the actions of those schools who choose to collect smartphones from their students each morning and return them each afternoon. Rather than using this form of overt control over students, we have taken the proactive path of asking them to place their smartphones in their locker at the start of the school day and to leave them there, unattended, until the day’s end. By doing so, we encourage our students to call on their strength of self-regulation, recognising that adults, too, experience the same addictive attraction to their smartphones as our adolescents and many also need to employ greater self-regulation in their use of their digital devices. While students are responsible for the storage of their smartphones in their lockers, for those few who struggle with this there are interventions in place to assist them with compliance. 

We have produced a literature review titled “Smartphones – Academic Friend or Foe” that provides the evidence base for our policy, and that can be found HERE

There is strong evidence that smartphones are a detriment to adolescent learning and wellbeing and this is why our policy since 2019 has been clear. The banning of these phones continues to assist us to create optimal learning environments for our students. 

Dr Alan Parsons
Deputy Head of School