France Is Banning Cellphones In Schools, And I Say 'Oui'

by Sara Farrell Baker
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I remember back in 2003 when I got my first cell phone for my seventeenth birthday. It was a clunky Nokia and I bought a bright blue faceplate for it because there is something about being a teenager that makes you want to personalize everything you come into contact with. Even though texting was a fairly new feature and most of my friends didn’t have their own phones yet, I still found myself hiding it under my desk to send messages or play games instead of paying attention in class.

Phones today are capable of so much more than we (i.e., the oldsters) ever had access to when we were in school — if we’re young enough to have been in school when cell phones were around. And with all their new capabilities come endless distractions for students. Which is why some schools are taking drastic steps to minimize those distractions. In fact, in France, schools are hoping to remove the distraction completely.

Throughout France, phones are banned from classrooms. Students haven’t been allowed to take out their phones during instruction since before 2010. But a new ban, taking effect in September 2018, will extend to breaks, time between classes, and even during lunch for all students under 15 years of age.

“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 French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, according to the Telegraph.

You can find article after article about the importance of play. If children are buried in their phones and foregoing time that should be spent interacting with their peers, building friendships, and playing with their classmates, there is going to be a price to pay for that. Social skills, impulse control, and their ability to focus are some of many areas of children’s lives that could be negatively impacted because they aren’t putting their phones away. Good on France for seeing the problem and caring enough about students to attempt a solution.

Not everyone shares my view, however. Parent groups in France and even some of those in education do not support the ban. Some don’t like it because of the complicated nature of implementing a ban on something as ubiquitous as cell phones, which practically all students carry to and from school. Others disagree because the world we live in demands constant communication and access.

Securely settled in on my old person porch, I can remember all the way back to the late 90s and early 00s when there were still payphones in schools and sticking a quarter in your pocket was your mom’s way of making sure you could contact her in an emergency. This feels like a pretty simple solution to at least some concerns and not that archaic of a proposal. And because many schools have thrown their payphones in the landfills, maybe allowing students access to a phone in the office would make the policy a little more palatable.

Of course, most students will still carry their phones to and from school. Collecting devices at the beginning of the day and distributing them at the end may seem complicated, but I don’t think that’s any reason to throw up our hands and say sacre bleu. Handling a collection in small batches in a homeroom class, for instance, before securing them for the day might be one way of going about it. Or schools could require that students keep their phones in their lockers all day.

Whatever shape it takes, or however it’s implemented, I think we can all agree that less time with screens is better for kids and their social, emotional, and academic development. Which is why France’s take seems like a positive step to me.