School Cell Phone Bans Are Becoming Popular But Do They Work?

( — Cell phones are generally seen as a positive innovation that has improved day-to-day life for millions. They can be used to look up information, keep in contact with people, and keep people from getting lost while driving around an unfamiliar city. However, as they have become integrated into every aspect of modern life, it has become obvious that there are dangers and consequences that were not foreseen. One such problem is that they can be distracting for students, teachers, and learning environments more generally. Some people believe school bans on cell phone use during school hours can solve that.

Cell phone bans have been around nearly as long as mobile phone devices, and bans have been enacted in many places around the world. A recent report from UNESCO, the educational and cultural branch of the United Nations, found that nearly one in four countries has some sort of policy or law that restricts cell phone use for students. In 1989, Maryland passed a law making it illegal for students to even bring mobile devices like cell phones or pagers to school with them, with violations resulting in fines or even jail time.

Restrictions on students keeping their cell phones with them have been heavily criticized over the fact that sometimes students may need to reach out for help in cases of emergencies. After the Columbine High School mass shootings and the tragic events of 9-11, parents, students, and many others were adamant that the risks of banning phones at school were greater than the benefits.

Although there are pros and cons to be weighed when deciding on bans or restrictions, the real question is whether or not they even work. In 2016, a federal survey of school principals revealed that schools with cell phone bans actually reported higher instances of cyberbullying than schools that didn’t. In contrast, a study out of Spain last year noted that in two different regions, the schools with the bans not only had large reductions in cyberbullying but also increased math and science scores.

In Norway, a study focusing on middle-school-age children indicated that smartphone restrictions in school correlated with higher overall grades for girls but not for boys. While there does not seem to be a simple answer at the moment, it is clear that more studies need to be done on the effects of smartphones on learning environments and student’s academic achievement.

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