I haven’t worn a watch in about three years. Recently, I had cause to dig through some of the clutter in the study and look for the one I used to wear. I hoped to find it and replace the battery, but it was not there. It is now a former watch, lost, destroyed or dwelling somewhere in the twilight of my world.
Recently, Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales, announced that mobile phones would be banned in government primary schools from the start of next year. There are two clear reasons for the ban. The first is cognitive – mobile phones are a distraction from whatever task teachers wish students to focus their attention on. For those familiar with the language of Cognitive Load Theory, mobile phones are a source of extraneous i.e. unnecessary and counterproductive cognitive load. The second reason is affective – mobile phones can be a source of stress. Real-world bullying can be mitigated by avoiding the bullies, but a child is never out of reach of virtual bullies if they have a phone in hand.
Michael Carr-Gregg, a respected psychologist, ran the review in New South Wales and lent his weight to the new policy. It’s hard to argue with.
Similar bans and restrictions are occurring across the world as education bureaucracies grow aware of the issue and try to turn back the clock – or watch – to a time before iPhones in schools. France banned mobile phones and smart watches from schools back in September and I keep seeing similar bans in individual schools being mentioned on Twitter.
We have reached this watershed because of the results of a community-wide, collective and ongoing analysis of the positive and negative effects. Five years ago, it was plausible to believe that these devices would herald a new era in learning. Children would be able to use them to interact with lesson materials and personalise the learning experience. But it never really happened. Smartphones have limited value for setting multiple choice quizzes or for taking photos of improvised board work, but these are hardly revolutionary and the same ends can be accomplished by other means.
On the other hand, the negative effect of phones on a generation who no longer talk to each other at lunch time are clear to anyone who visits a school without restrictions in place. And those are just the more obvious negative effects.
And so my own school has introduced restrictions. And it would hardly be acceptable, in such circumstances, for me to check my phone during lessons in order to tell the time, as has become my habit. And as all teachers know, you cannot rely on the clock in the classroom. It is deceitful. It is not your friend.
So that’s why I’m asking Santa for a watch this year.