France is to impose a total ban on pupils using mobile phones in primary and secondary schools starting in September 2018, its education minister has confirmed. Phones are already forbidden in French classrooms but starting next school year, pupils will be barred from taking them out at breaks, lunch times and between lessons.
Teachers and parents are divided over a total ban, however, with some saying children must be able to “live in their time”. In France, some 93 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds own mobile phones.
“These days the children don’t play at break time anymore, they are just all in front of their smartphones and from an educational point of view that’s a problem,” said Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister. “This is about ensuring the rules and the law are respected. The use of telephones is banned in class. With headmasters, teachers and parents, we must come up with a way of protecting pupils from loss of concentration via screens and phones,” he said.
“Are we going to ban mobile phones from schools? The answer is yes.” Studies suggest that a significant number of pupils continue to use their mobiles in class and receive or send calls or text messages. Up to 40 per cent of punishments are mobile-related, according to Philippe Tournier, a Paris headmaster with the Snpden-Unsa teaching union. But he said it was tricky to know how to clamp down on the practice without being able to, say, search pupils’ bags.
It remains unclear how the ban would work. Mr Blanquer had previously suggested that schools would have to provide lockers for pupils to store the phones during school hours.
“We are currently working on this [ban] and it could work in various ways,” said Mr Blanquer. “Phones may be needed for teaching purposes or in cases of emergency so mobile phones will have to be locked away.”
Earlier this year, he suggested that if French politicians were able to put their phones away during council of ministers meetings, then surely it was “possible for any human group, including a class” to do the same.The practice is already in use in many French “colleges”, or primary schools.
“A box placed on the table at the entrance to my class awaits mobile phones. I have never had any problems. It takes two minutes at the start of each hour. This was already the case in primary schools I worked in in Paris,,” one teacher based in Rueil-Malmaison told Le Figaro.
In another establishment in Essonne area, pupils place their phones in named bags in an office at the school entrance and take them back at the end of the day. But one headmaster in Marseille, southern France, said he remained unconvinced but this “so-called miracle solution”, saying that phones could get mixed up, lost or stolen. “If they are switched off at the bottom of the bag, then it works,” he said.
Previous education ministers have resisted a total ban. In 2011, Luc Chatel, then then president Nicolas Sarkozy’s education minister, told senators: “The use of mobiles has entered modern daily habits. We cannot ignore the need to communicate, notably between children and their parents, who are themselves in demand, naturally outside class hours.”
Peep, one of France’s biggest parents’ associations, has already expressed scepticism. “We don’t think it’s possible at the moment,” said its head, Gerard Pommier.
“Imagine a secondary school with 600 pupils. Are they going to put all their phones in a box? How do you store them? And give them back at the end?,” he asked.
“One must live with the times. It would be more intelligent to pose rules and discuss their meaning with pupils,” said Peep, pointing out that “adults themselves are not always exemplary with mobiles”.But for the education minister the issue of mobile phones and tablets is a matter of “public health”. “It’s important that children under the age of seven are not in front of these screens,” he added.
The minister also sees the move as a way of cutting down on cyber-bullying. The ban would apply to children up to 15 but phones would be allowed in lycees (secondary school). Emmanuel Macron spelled out his intention to ban mobile phones in schools in his manifesto before his election as French president in May.
Article By Henry Samuel
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