France grapples with whether to ban cellphones in schools

Elementary school children use electronic tablets on the first day of class in the new school year in Nice, France. Eric Gaillard / Reuters file

In the United States, the policies also differ from state to state and most schools set their own policies.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest in California, forbids the use of cellphones at recess and lunch, for instance, while thousands of students in Miami-Dade County, the largest public school district in Florida, receive free cellphones to help with their studies.

In New York City, a ban on cellphones in public schools that was imposed in 2006 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg was overturned in 2015 by his successor, Bill de Blasio, who argued that allowing schools to set their own policies would reduce inequaliity. The initial ban had also been criticized because it resulted in the emergence of trucks that would park near schools and charge $1 a day to store devices, with some school children paying $180 a year for the service.

Why not use the ‘computer in their pockets’?

For now, parents and teachers in France appear united in their opposition to the education minister’s proposal, saying the debate should not be about banning phones but regulating their use.

“Our position is that we must limit cellphones’ perverse effects,” said Gerard Pommier, the head of the Federation of Parents in State Schools. “We would prefer work to be done on the educational aspect. Cellphones are tools, and it’s their excessive use that poses a problem.”

Alexis Torchet, secretary general of the teachers’ union SGEN-CFDT, said, “The question is not about banning phones but teaching student how to use them in a sensible and reasoned manner.”

“About 90 percent of students have what is basically a computer in their pockets that is often more operational than the school’s ones,” Torchet said. “The debate must be centered around technology education.”

“There is a lot of teaching to do about digital tools and digitization in general,” he added.

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