Monday, 08 August 2022

Headteacher bans mobiles so pupils talk to each other

A HEADTEACHER who banned pupils from using mobile phones during the school day says the benefits are already showing through.

Gregg Davies, headmaster of Shiplake College, says students now talk to each other a lot more rather than spending their time on social media.

He decided to restrict the use of mobiles at the 460-pupil independent school at the beginning of last term.

Pupils caught using their phones between 8.15am and 5.45pm are given a detention. Staff can use their phones only in their offices.

Mr Davies said: “While the accessibility of education and learning is heightened with the use of technology, increasingly I had noticed that our pupils were losing the key skill of social intercourse.

“Connectivity was getting in the way of experiencing and communicating in real life and pupils were losing the ability to engage in social dialogue.

“The subtle nuances of conversation are lost within electronic communication. It is simply not enough to read information, one has to see and hear intonation and gestures.

“Preferring to communicate from behind a 5in screen, there is increasingly a genuine danger that children are missing out on vital social interaction which shapes so much of their lives and attitudes.

“Moreover, the apparent desperation to only showcase the highlights reel can lead to people, particularly teenagers and young people, to feel left out and depressed, worried that their lives aren’t as exciting as their peers.

“It is suddenly very easy to hurl abuse anonymously online, or from behind a Twitter handle. People adopt a technological identity that can be far removed from their biological one.

“It’s not just within school that I have noticed the increasing use of phones. It seems to be a nationwide epidemic — in waiting rooms, on public transport, in lifts, even in restaurants — it seems that people would prefer to exist in the bubble created by the apps on the phone than communicate with others.”

Mr Davies said the restriction on phone use was initially greeted by pupils with “uproar”.

However, parents were delighted and since then the students were experiencing the benefits of interacting with one another more.

Mr Davies said: “They stay at the lunch table longer. Lunch is no longer a rushed meal and then it’s back to house to their own zone to communicate without actually speaking to anyone.

“ Downtime is spent with classmates and peers, playing sport and having actual conversations. Phones are less and less of a crutch to pupils. This is a change particularly noticeable in sixth form boys and girls — their ability to discuss and debate issues and events has been perceptible in class and houses.

“Pupils’ wellbeing has improved as a result of this — being outside, interacting with peers and seeing the world around them has relieved the pressure of constantly showcasing life online.

“While technology furthers life and learning in many ways, it has been a very positive for the pupils of Shiplake to step out from the screens and see the world around them.”

The school still encourages the use of tablets and laptops in class and Mr Davies said technology still had a place in education.

He said: “Styles of learning have evolved with the introduction of technology. Classes are made more dynamic with the help of computers, homework is more accessible with online platforms and tricky subjects are conquered with interactive games.

“Pupils are able to take a quick photo of notes on the board, or the whiteboard tables we have installed in a number of classrooms.

“Pupils can access resources online to aid understanding of topics outside the classroom. Sites such as YouTube, Kahoot! and BBC Bitesize are increasingly used.”

Dawn Greenaway, who chairs the school’s parents’ association, said: “I personally love the idea and, talking to other parents, they feel the same way. It takes away that unnecessary distraction.

“Really I don’t think the pupils miss the phone. They get it after their prep time so there’s still plenty of time to text mum and dad. I think this has been of huge benefit.”

Mrs Greenaway has two sons, Harvey, 15, and Monty, 14, at Shiplake and said neither was bothered by the ban.

“They were absolutely fine with it,” she said. “I think perhaps we should enforce the same rule in offices a bit more.”

Year 13 pupil and head of college Emily Wilkinson, 18, said: “Initially we were all a bit sceptical because we had become attached to being on our phones but as we have got used to it we have realised how beneficial it is.

“Personally, I haven’t been distracted by my phone during studies and lessons.

“As term has gone on, we have all seen a massive change, particularly in the common room. At lunch and break we now talk to each other.

“We all really struggled to meet up when the ban first came in. We had got used to texting each other, saying ‘where are you?’ Now we have to plan how we meet.

“It has been an almost freeing experience from always being on social media.”

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