The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has called on schools to remove smartphones from classrooms, except where they’re absolutely necessary. It warned that while technology can sometimes be helpful, it can be over-used and inappropriately used.
In the case of smartphones specifically, it said that just having a mobile phone nearby buzzing with notifications is enough to distract students from the work they should be doing. It mentioned that one study found students could take up to twenty minutes to refocus on their school work after being distracted - that’s about a third of the time of a typical lesson.
In its new 2023 Global Education Monitoring Report, it cited a study which looked at schools in Belgium, Spain, and the United Kingdom (UK) that removed phones from the classroom. It was found that learning outcomes improved as a result, especially for those kids that were falling behind their peers.
Warning about the use of smartphones, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said:
‘The digital revolution holds immeasurable potential but, just as warnings have been voiced for how it should be regulated in society, similar attention must be paid to the way it is used in education.’
UNESCO said that nearly a quarter of countries have bans on smartphones in law or policy already. It found that bans in Asia were the most common. For example, Bangladesh and Singapore ban phones in the classroom but students can still take them to school.
In other places such as Denmark, France, Germany, and the United States, certain applications are banned in education settings due to privacy concerns. Notably, Germany has banned Microsoft products in some states.
While UNESCO is calling on countries and schools to reassess allowing phones into class, it said that students also need to learn the risks and opportunities of technology so shouldn’t be shielded from them entirely. Overall, it said technology should only be allowed in school if it actually supports learning.