Mobile phones will be banned from Victorian state primary and secondary schools under strict new rules aimed at tackling cyber bullying?and distractions in the classroom.
The Victorian government has adopted one of the world's toughest stances on mobile phone use in schools and from the start of next year, students must switch off their devices and store them in lockers during school hours.
Students from prep to Year 12 will not be allowed to use their phones during recess and lunchtime.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said teachers and parents regularly raised concerns about mobile phones' effect on students.
“This will remove a major distraction from our classrooms, so that teachers can teach, and students can learn in a more focused, positive and supported environment,” he said.
He said the move would also help combat bullying, citing research from Headspace which found 53 per cent of young Australians had experienced cyber bullying.
The move follows French schoolchildren under 15 being banned from using phones at school and the NSW government outlawing mobile phones in its public primary schools. Federal education minister Dan Tehan has also been urging states to ban the devices from classrooms.
While many Victorian schools have already introduced their own phone bans, this is the first time a statewide ban has existed.
Exemptions will be granted to students who use phones to monitor health conditions, and students will be able use phones for classroom activities if they receive permission from their teacher.
The policy will be unveiled on Wednesday at McKinnon Secondary College, a high-performing state school that has witnessed more interaction between students during lunchtime and less distractions in class since implementing a ban last year.
Principals are divided on the phone ban.
Victorian Association of State Secondary Schools president Sue Bell said while some principals supported the ban, others felt they had a duty to teach students how to use the devices properly.
“We are taking away an opportunity to learn how to self-manage a device,” she said.
She said the changes could also lead to conflict between teachers and students.
But child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Greg, who led an independent review for the NSW government ahead of its phone ban, welcomed the “courageous” move.
He said students were more likely to be cyberbullied if their classmates could use their smartphones at school.
“What this boils down to is all schools have a duty of care to provide a safe environment,” he said.
The change would not be anti-technology, Dr Carr-Greg argues, as children could still use the internet through laptops.
The changes are likely to be met with resistance by many students who have never known life before smartphones.
Year 12 Mooroolbark College student Beth Shegog said she was opposed to the plan because it stopped students from learning self-control and took away an important learning tool.
“A lot of students see mobile phones as incredibly useful," the executive member of the Victorian Student Representative Council said. "They don't always find them distracting.”
Her state school in Melbourne’s east lets students take phones into class as long as they are used for educational purposes. Phones are confiscated from students if they are used inappropriately, such as logging into social media.
Beth uses her phone to take photos of notes on the whiteboard, film science experiments, search online dictionaries and communicate with her mother during lunch.
Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said parents and students used phones to communicate with one and another during recess and lunch - a practice that will be banned under the new regime. Parents are advised to call their children’s school if an emergency occurs.
“I have no idea how this is going to play out,” she said.
According to Australian Principals Federation president Julie Podbury,? managing smartphones has been an “enormous challenge” for schools.
“We have heard stories about children who take inappropriate photographs of other kids, and my coordinators used to spend a huge amount of time around phone theft,” she said.
But she said banning the devices also presented challenges, including ensuring phones were securely stored in lockers.
Monash University professor of education Neil Selwyn said the ban would be a headache to police and students would be denied important learning experiences.
In his recent survey of more than 2000 Australian adults, Dr Selwyn found that 75 per cent supported mobile phone use being restricted at school and around one-third supported an outright ban.
The Education Department will work with principals next term to develop detailed advice ahead of the policy's launch next year. The policy will be reviewed at the end of 2020.