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UNESCO: Ban phones from schools now

The UN's science, education and culture agency has issued a report stating that smartphones should be banned from schools now. Further details are available in The Guardian.

The report states that evidence shows excessive smartphone use is linked to reduced educational outcomes, and has a negative effect on the emotional well-being of young people. Further, banning smartphones would "tackle classroom disruption, improve learning and help protect children from cyberbullying."

The report also talks generally about screen use in the classroom.

"Unesco warned policymakers against an unthinking embrace of digital technology, arguing that its positive impact on learning outcomes and economic efficiency could be overstated, and new was not always better. “Not all change constitutes progress. Just because something can be done does not mean it should be done,” it concluded."

"There is little evidence on digital technology's added value in education... a lot of the evidence comes from those trying to sell it.'"

"Unesco said in the report that countries needed to ensure they had clear objectives and principles in place to ensure digital technology in education was beneficial and avoided harm, both to individual students’ health, and more widely to democracy and human rights, for instance through invasion of privacy and stoking of online hatred."

"Excessive or inappropriate student use of technology in the classroom and at home, whether smartphones, tablets or laptops, could be distracting, disruptive and result in a detrimental impact on learning, it said. It cited large-scale international assessment data that indicated a “negative link” between excessive use of digital technology and student performance."

"Countries were “waking up to the importance of putting learners first” when it came to digital technology, said Unesco. It cited China, which it said has set boundaries for the use of digital devices as teaching tools, limiting them to 30% of all teaching time, with students expected to take regular screen breaks."

This report supports the call by Sensible Screen Use for recommendations to be developed for the safe use of digital technologies in schools in New Zealand, including time limitations for younger students.

OECD and IEA data shows that New Zealand students have amongst the highest use of digital technologies in the world.

Emerging evidence from large-scale international and New Zealand studies suggests that frequent screen use in class is associated with reduced learning outcomes - including gaining important digital skills that our children will need. The amount of screen use described in studies as frequent may sound surprisingly low to New Zealanders. Moderate use, which is linked to some improvements in learning, is described between studies as up to half an hour a day, an hour a week, or 'occasional use'. Use beyond these amounts has been described as frequent.

While content (what children are doing on screens) has an impact on whether screen use is helpful, harmful or neutral, so does time spent using screens.

A research brief on the effects of screen time by New Zealand's Science Education Advisor Stuart McNaughton, notes that 3 to 4 hours of total screen use per day (home and school) is the maximum figure after which the effects of screen time become increasingly negative to health for 5 to 18-year-olds. This figure of course would vary considerably, particularly for younger children. We know that some children in New Zealand are using screens for these periods of time in the classroom - even at primary and intermediate school. That's without considering additional time spent on screens at home for homework and recreation.

While New Zealand has been an early and enthusiastic adopter of digital tools in education, it is time to respond to the increasing evidence of harm associated with frequent screen use. Recreational guidelines for child and adolescent screen use are already in place. We can support our schools and kura by developing recommendations for the safe use of screens in the classroom, allowing our kids to get the best out of digital technologies for learning, with lower risk.

See for further information and references.

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