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Unesco calls for smartphone ban in schools globally

Unesco calls for smartphone ban in schools globally
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Unesco, the UN's education, science, and culture agency, has issued a call for a smartphone ban in education, citing evidence linking excessive mobile phone use to reduced educational performance and negative effects on children's emotional stability.

The agency emphasized the importance of a “human-centred vision” of education, urging that digital technology, including , should never replace face-to-face interactions with .

Unesco warned policymakers against blindly embracing digital technology, cautioning that its positive impact on learning outcomes and economic efficiency might be overstated. It emphasized that not all change constitutes progress and that caution should be exercised in adopting new technologies.

With the increasing move towards online learning, especially in , Unesco emphasized the significance of not neglecting the “social dimension” of education, where face-to-face teaching plays a crucial role.

Unesco's director general, Audrey Azoulay, highlighted the potential of the digital revolution for enhanced learning experiences but stressed that its use should prioritize the wellbeing of students and teachers, rather than being to their detriment.

The agency emphasized the need for clear objectives and principles to ensure digital technology in education is beneficial and avoids harm, including health issues for students and broader concerns about democracy and human rights, such as invasion of privacy and online hatred.

Unesco referred to international assessment data indicating a “negative link” between excessive use of digital technology and student performance, cautioning against excessive or inappropriate student use of technology in classrooms and homes.

The report acknowledged that while technology could offer learning opportunities for millions, its benefits were not equally distributed, with many economically disadvantaged individuals being effectively excluded.

Unesco raised concerns about the lack of robust research demonstrating the inherent value of digital technology in education. It noted that much of the evidence was funded by private education companies trying to sell digital learning products, raising concerns about their growing influence on education policies worldwide.

Countries are gradually recognizing the need to prioritize learners' interests when it comes to digital technology, with some, like , setting boundaries for the use of digital devices in teaching.

The report acknowledged the role of online learning during lockdowns, estimating that over a billion students globally shifted to online learning during the pandemic. However, it highlighted the issue of millions of economically disadvantaged students being left out due to a lack of internet access.

Unesco estimated that one in six countries had banned smartphones in schools, either through law or guidance. and the Netherlands were cited as examples of countries with such bans.

In the UK, former education secretary Gavin Williamson's call for a mobile phone ban in schools in 2021 was met with scepticism from education unions, who argued that most schools already had robust smartphone use policies in place.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, acknowledged the legitimate concerns around mobile phone use but noted that the widespread use of smartphones is a societal issue and that problems arising from it are more likely to occur outside school premises.

The Department for Education was approached for comment on the matter.

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