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France bans phones in primary and middle schools

France has banned all cell phones in schools
France has banned all cell phones in schools
Image: REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
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French children are going back to school today (Sept. 3) after summer vacation–but, for the first time, they will be forced to give up their mobile phones.

On July 30, 2018, the French government passed a law banning the use of phones in primary and middle schools, to come into effect in the beginning of the 2018 school year. The law allows exceptions for disabled children, in cases of emergency, or “within the framework of explicit and specific pedagogical use, supervised by the teachers.” The law also states that high schools can ban cell phones if they choose to, but the decision will be left up to individual establishments (link in French).

The purpose of the law, according to the Ministry of Education, is threefold (link in French). It is meant to help kids’ ”attention, concentration and reflection” in class; encourage kids to actually play with each other, make friends, and exercise during recreation times; and to combat racketeering, theft, online bullying, and harassment in schools, as well as limit young children’s exposure “to shocking, violent, or pornographic images.”

The ban is expected to change the way that a lot of students and families go about their days, since nearly nine out of 10 young people between 12 and 17 years old own a mobile phone in France (link in French).

The law allows schools to choose whether they want to ban all mobile phones on campus, or allow children to bring phones to school but store them away in their bags or lockers. Either way, students caught using a cell phone in school will risk having the phone confiscated.

The French ban builds on available evidence that prohibiting phones and electronic devices in schools can improve academic performance. A study by researchers at the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics (pdf) found that, between 2001 and 2011, standardized test scores for 16-year-olds at 91 UK schools rose by 6.4% when those schools instituted bans on mobile phones. The authors of the study concludes that this improvement is the “equivalent of adding five days to the school year,” or adding an extra hour of school per week.

As Jenny Anderson has written for Quartz, when the news of the ban was first announced in December 2017, parents, students and teachers were upset. But Jean-Michel Blanquer, the minister of education, seemed unfazed. “In ministerial meetings, we leave our phones in lockers before going in,” he said in September. “It seems to me that this as doable for any human group, including a class.”