Tools for Distraction and Cheating
Smartphones at schools wreck our children’s education and destroy their capacity to learn. Teachers stand no chance against YouTube and Instagram.
The phone with all its distractions is accepted as a necessary evil, and is integrated as an education “tool”. Teachers even assign homework that requires students to make photos and videos on their phones, assuming everybody has one.
Parents of high schoolers in our district also talk of rampant cheating. Kids use their phones to copy each other’s homework, look up and share answers for tests, and upload entire assignments to websites that do the work for them. According to my parent source, teachers cannot do anything about this — at the time of COVID-19 when ALL education happens on screens, they gave up trying to control the outcome.
Every test these days is “open book”. Which really means — open phone.
Phone Separation Anxiety
A friend of mine, a substitute teacher, told a story of a student trying to thread a long cord across the entire classroom to charge his phone. My friend suggested that he leaves his phone charging by the outlet since he is not allowed to use it during the class anyway, plus people might trip on the cord. The student was shocked at the suggestion, started hyperventilating and almost had a panic attack — “How can I be separated from my phone, with me sitting here and my phone being all the way over there on the other side of the room?!” Stories like this play out in the classrooms across the nation every day.
Teachers who attempt to battle digital distraction in a noble effort to provide their students with a good education now have to deal with a whole new challenge: separation anxiety. Students are so addicted, they experience real anxiety symptoms if they are separated from their phones! There is already an official name for the disorder: nomophobia.
Teachers are using different techniques: from locking the phones in Yondr pouches that cannot be opened without a special magnet, to giving students extra credit for being away from their phone. Physically collecting the phones before the class seems to be the only sure way to remove the temptation. One of the solutions for “phone separation anxiety” is keeping the phones visible by parking them in a group charging station in the classroom, or keeping the phones in a clear plastic bag — they are out of reach but still in full view to alleviate the anxiety students feel when being separated from their beloved screens.
Policy Solutions for the Classroom
Forward-thinking schools and entire countries already instituted official bans on smartphones for students during the school day to make sure the educational process is not disrupted.
Away For The Day initiative was launched in the US to help transform schools into cell phone-free spaces. The best practice recommended is having phones put away in lockers or classroom charging stations, so the phone is physically off of the students.
Where it is not logistically possible, students should keep their phones in their backpacks during the day. Schools that adopted “away for a day” policies have reaped the benefits of undistracted learning and received thank-you emails from grateful parents. As much as parents want to be able to reach their kids, 80% of us still prefer that our child is not distracted during the school day.
A couple of years ago I took my 10 year old daughter for a trip to France. While visiting historical attractions, we often encountered French school groups on field trips — at the Louvre museum in Paris, Roman ruins in Provence, in Loire Valley chateaus. There was something different about these kids, and at first I could not put my finger on it. But then it hit me — none of the kids had phones! Only the chaperones. How did the kids behave?
They were PRESENT.
They paid attention to the historical splendor around them. They listened to the guides. They read the descriptions. They talked with each other, they played and ran around. It was beautiful.
They were so different from the young digital zombies I have seen on American field trips, for whom art was only as interesting as a background for another selfie.
From September 2018, the French government banned students from using mobile phones in the country’s primary, junior and middle schools. Children are allowed to bring their phones to school, but not allowed to get them out at any time, even during breaks. The policy applied to students from age 6 to 15. High schools can elect to implement the measure voluntarily. A ban on cellphones during class hours was already in place since 2010, but the new law extends to breaks and mealtimes. “We must come up with a way of protecting pupils from loss of concentration via screens and phones,” said French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.
Studies have shown that academic performance rises after cellphones are removed from the classroom, and the French are ahead of the game to give their young the advantage in competitive global world.
Now California is introducing similar policies in their schools. The first of its kind, the law authorizes schools to adopt a policy to reduce or prohibit cell phone use when at school. Cellphone bans have been implemented in school districts across the nation — in Wisconsin, Texas, Illinois, New York, Florida and other states, with overwhelmingly positive results on student focus and participation. Healthy boundaries are good for everyone involved.
Teachers can concentrate on teaching, students can concentrate on learning, and parents can relax knowing that their children are getting an education — not social media, gaming, and pornography.
Let’s hope our Boards of Education wake up to the existential threat of phones to the very existence of teachers. We should catch up with the French.
Her research on the relationship between technology and psychology seeks to reveal how digital behavior manipulation affects human wellbeing.