Students’ access to mobile phones will be restricted in NSW public schools if a Labor government is elected next year.
Opposition Leader Chris Minns wants to limit the use of phones in public high school classrooms to improve learning and social development.
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“As a parent of three children myself, I’m worried about the impact of phones and devices on our kids,” he said on Monday, “We’re doing this because we think it is important for the wellbeing and educational achievement of our young children.”
Labor will also conduct a review into the impact of technology on children and young people and develop digital media literacy programs with a focus on online ethical behaviours, data privacy and critical thinking.
The mobile phone policy would mirror those in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia restricting their use along with smartwatches, tablets and headphones – unless students are under the instruction of staff.
Currently, students from kindergarten to year six are not permitted to have mobile phones in their possession during the school day.
Under the proposed policy, public high school students would have their phones turned off during school hours and kept out of sight until the end of the school day.
Principals of private schools would still be able to exercise their own discretion as to whether students can use phones during school hours.
“Limiting phone use in schools will help cut distractions, deal with cyberbullying and help students catch up academically,” Minns said.
“This will help teachers to teach and students to learn in a focused and supportive environment.”
Seven in every 10 NSW public schools already had bans in place, Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
In circumstances where they were required or desired, the education department worked with schools.
Centre for Digital Wellbeing founder Carla Wilshire says empathy is lacking in the digital world, and that social media is designed to be addictive, adding that a comprehensive education program on ethical online behaviour is needed.
“We know that the types of conversations people have online have less empathy than the types of conversations people have in the real world,” she said.
“For the average 13-year old there will be something like 72 million points of data on them, out in the world by the time they’re 13. That is a phenomenal amount.”
The Heads Up Alliance founders Dany and Cynthia Elachi have been pushing for a similar ban for months and are “thrilled” with the proposal by the opposition.
Dany says they and the parents within their community group pushing to delay the use of smartphones for children until at least year 8, have also been pressing the current government to embrace a policy change.
They call it a “no-brainer issue” and say it will help children socially as well as academically.
“Not only is it an advantage for students in the classroom, but during recess and lunchtime,” they said.
“Many, many schools, teachers and principals are telling us that the children no longer socialise, have forgotten the art of talking to their friends, side-by-side they’re texting each other in the playground,”
– with AAP
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