UNESCO’s Proposal To Ban Smartphones In School: To Do Or Not To Do?

With a smartphone ban for children being announced in many countries, are we ready to balance the right screen-time exposure while ensuring the learning doesn’t stop?

A few weeks ago, on Kidsstoppress, we asked our readers and shared our take on the right age to give your child a phone. The question comes at a time when, according to a Deloitte study, India has 1.2 billion mobile phone users and over 600 million smartphone users. 

It is the way of the future, there is no denying it. We are at a cusp of a digital explosion that is rewiring the way we approach our daily lifestyle. And if we go by reports from World Economic Forum, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types. Are we preparing our children for this uncertain future? Is it possible without exposing them to the plethora of knowledge that the smartphone will bring about? 

But the question doesn’t just lie on whether your child should use a smartphone or not. The real question is how much should a smartphone be a part of your child’s life. We read articles that equate screen time to addiction in children and why we need to keep a tab on how much is too much. That is what today’s parent is worried about.

UNESCO, in its recent Global Education Monitoring Report 2023, has proposed a universal ban on cell phones in classrooms because of concerns about distractions and their negative effects on academic performance.

Findings From The GEM Report 2023

Based on its analysis of 200 education systems around the world, UNESCO estimated that one in four countries had banned smartphones in schools, either through law or guidance. Eg: Finland, France, and the Netherlands. The UK tried to bring about a crackdown, which was soon dismissed.

And very recently, China has talked about a similar ban. Chinese regulators have proposed rules that would limit the smartphone screen time of people under the age of 18 to a maximum of two hours per day.

According to the draft regulations:

  • Children under the age of eight should be restricted to a maximum of 40 minutes a day on their smartphones.
  • Kids over the age of eight but under the age of 16 can use their phones for no more than one hour per day.
  • Those aged between 16 and 17 can use a handset for a maximum of two hours.

In particular, the use of smartphones can disrupt learning in classrooms. One study looking at pre-primary through higher education in 14 countries found that it distracted students from learning. Even just having a mobile phone nearby with notifications coming through is enough to result in students losing their attention from the task at hand. One study found that it can take students up to 20 minutes to refocus on what they were learning once they are distracted.

UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report 2023

But Is This A Practical Move?

A 2014 UNESCO Report showed that hundreds of thousands of people in developing countries are using their mobile phones to read, suggesting that mobile technology could help tackle illiteracy and boost access to educational and reading material.

According to the report on mobile readers in developing countries, about 62 percent of respondents said they were reading more using their mobile phones. The report suggested that mobile reading could potentially benefit women living in countries where they face cultural or social obstacles to accessing books, according to Time magazine.

The pandemic showed us how technology helped step in when things went out of control at a global scale with COVID-19. In what would have resulted in terrible learning loss, online schools and the adaptation of technology helped bridge the gap. But could that mean, this is the future?

According to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay,

The digital revolution holds immeasurable potential, but, just as warnings have been voiced for how it should be regulated in society, similar attention must be paid to the way it is used in education.

The Flip Side

While we read every day about the penetration of technology in our everyday lives and how children are exposed to the world much faster and more rapidly with a gadget in hand, what are the downfalls? What are we ignoring as we march towards a liberated and techno-savvy future for our children?

Organisational expert and best-selling author Adam Grant recently spoke about this, which we shared on our Instagram channel.

According to The Guardian, another troubling problem brought on by the improper use of smartphones in schools is cyberbullying. A report by Symantec quoted that India, as a country, faces the highest level of cyberbullying in the Asia Pacific region, more than Australia and Japan. Read more about how cyberbullying and how it affects our children here.

Nearly 8 out of 10 individuals are subject to the different types of cyberbullying in India. Out of these, around 63% faced online abuses and insults, and 59% were subject to false rumours and gossips for degrading their image.

Symanetc report

What Does Excess Screen Time Do To Your Kids?

We often hear a big NO when it comes to excess screen time whether it is for infants or for teens. What causes this uproar? Why are health experts, consultants and educators against the concept of introducing screens to children? Here are some facts that clearly indicate the perils of excess screen time and what it does to the developing brains.

  1. A 2018 NIH study states that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.
  2. Professional Screen Time consultant Emily Cherkin, shares on NPR, how screen time (social media or video games) cause dopamine spikes deep inside a child’s brain that project them to be more critical than other activities that cause smaller dopamine spikes such as finishing their homework or chores. 
  3. Infants 6 to 12 months old who were exposed to screens in the evening showed significantly shorter nighttime sleep than those who had no evening screen exposure, says an NIH study
  4. A research report in JAMA Pediatrics suggested that too much screen time can have detrimental effects on children’s memory, attention, communication, and social and language skills

How To Reduce Your Child’s Device Addiction

The worry today’s parents have is if their children are replacing us, parents with a screen. In this interview with Ruchira Darda, founder of WOW, Mansi Zaveri, CEO & Founder, Kidsstoppress.com shares all the tips, tricks, and lessons she learned while dropping screen time at home. They worked for us and I’m sure they’ll work for you too.

How To Stay Safe While Using Smartphones?

While parents who are tired of negotiating screen time with their children welcome these moves to ban the use of devices at school, some parents feel that this is an extreme step that can stop technological integration and prospects for personalised learning.

To opt for the safer middle road, that gives our children both the safety they deserve and the learning they are entitled to, it’s critical to develop a balanced strategy that maximizes technology’s advantages while minimizing its disadvantages.

  1. Device management policies that help regulate the use of certain features at school. 
  2. Curated educational apps that help promote productive mobile phone usage.
  3. Setting device-free zones at home and school helps reduce distractions.  
  4. Focusing on a safer internet experience with the right safety tools and settings. 

If you are a parent who is concerned about your child spending time on Instagram or how safe they are on such a public platform, the below video should help you.

In addition to the Parental Supervision Tools we told you that Meta India launched last year, they have developed tools that ensure your child is safe and connect the balance between the real and virtual worlds. Tools such as Quiet Mode, Daily Limit, and Take A Break are just what every parent wants in a platform as powerful as Instagram, so they know their teens use them wisely.

UNESCO’s demand for a worldwide ban on smartphones in classrooms reflects the growing worry about the potential harm that smartphones could do to kids’ learning and well-being.

While the prohibition attempts to protect against distractions and promote a focused learning environment, it is crucial to achieve a balance between utilising technology for learning and reducing its misuse.

What are your thoughts on this? Are you on the pro team or con? Tell us in the comments below. Also, do check out the below useful tips on battling screen time with your kids.

Leave a Reply


Subscribe to get the latest news & updates delivered directly to your inbox.

You May Also Like